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Environmental health professionals week

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Kate Peake
Washington County Environmental Services

What is an environmentalist?

The term is very broad and brings to mind many different images; such as, tree huggers, pollution experts, investigators.  As Kentucky celebrates Public Health Week, the local public health environmentalists across the state are recognized for the wide variety of issues they handle each day in the local communities.  Washington County is part of the Lincoln Trail Health District.  The district also includes Hardin, Nelson Marion, Larue, and Meade counties.  The public health environmentalist is part of the team at the local county health department.  Many programs, from food safety and disease prevention to wastewater treatment and public health nuisance complaints are the responsibility of the environmentalist.

Everyone knows to check local restaurant scores!  Our restaurants and other businesses which sell food are inspected on a routine basis. 

Lincoln Trail District Health Department (LTDHD) environmentalists train over 650 people per year to ensure “Person In Charge” trained professionals are on duty in our restaurants.  

Kate Peake, Washington County environmentalist says, “Food safety is a team effort and routine inspections are just a small part of the plan.” 

Environmentalists must also ensure that community fairs and festivals are in compliance with the State Food Code.  The environmentalists are available to meet with groups wanting to sell food at events.  “It’s simple to do it safe” says Peake.  The LTDHD web site has general safety information.  Be sure to visit any local environmental office before your event.  

Some of the other public facilities which are routinely inspected by the local environmentalist include:  mobile home parks, school buildings, swimming pools, hotels, summer camps, campgrounds, ear piercing, and tattoo parlors.  New business owners will find information and assistance when setting up establishments through plan approval, walk-thru inspections, and reviewing code requirements.  Every new establishment must be in compliance before opening.

One of the most important programs in environmental public health is human waste management.  Keeping waste water treated and ground water protected is vital to protect our water supplies and prevent the spread of disease.  Every county in Kentucky has areas where city sewers are not available.  Individual septic systems treat the waste water from homes and businesses in these areas.  Health environmentalists evaluate soil and land conditions to provide septic system requirements and options.  Systems are installed by certified installers and approved for compliance by the local environmentalist.  Septic systems are an important part of your home or business.  

As spring approaches, the local environmental offices recommend performing any maintenance your septic system requires.  Clean filters, switch splitter valves and have your septic tank cleaned.  The Kentucky Department of Public Health recommends pumping your residential septic tank every 3 to 5 years.  Be sure that sump pumps for basement water, gutters, drains, and water softeners do not enter the septic system.  

All waste water from the home, including washing machines and kitchen sink drainage, are required to discharge into a septic system.  Limit the use of strong cleaners and do not pour paint, chemicals, oils, and grease down the drain into your system.  Be sure to contact the local environmental office before you build or dig to avoid damaging your septic system.

Public health involves protecting the general public from manmade health hazards.  Environmentalists investigate complaints of rats, excessive trash, mosquitoes, sewage surfacing, and unvaccinated dogs.  Each spring and summer as the weather improves the complaints increase.  People are out and about and want to enjoy a safe and disease free community.  Spring is the time of year each individual homeowner can do many preventative things to help keep the community disease free.  Stack wood and unused items 6-8 inches above the ground and tarp over the items.  This keeps away rats and other unwanted animals.  Contact your local solid waste coordinator and watch for county trash days and dispose of unwanted items properly.  

Spring showers bring mosquitoes.  A bit of work now can really reduce future mosquito problems.  Tarp unused items so they do not collect water.  Fix leaks and drips under and around homes.  Trim shrubs and bushes off the ground 12-18 inches.  Fill in pot holes with kitty litter and clean out drainage ditches so they do not hold water.  Clean gutter and down spouts so mosquitoes can’t breed in any standing water. 

Keep swimming pools covered when not in use and drain unused pools frequently.  Mow grass and weeds early in the season and keep at 6” length under trees and shrubs.  Spring cleaning your property will help deter summer pests and problems.  

Public health environmentalists are working in our local community every day educating and inspecting in an effort to protect the community from disease.  Enforcing rabies quarantines, (please vaccinate all dogs over 4 months old) repairing failing sewage systems and enforcing regulations for public facilities and restaurants is all in a day’s work.  Local environmental offices are open each day for office hours.  

Lincoln Trail District environmental services are an important resource for our local community.

(Kate Peake can be reached at (859) 336-0574 or during office hours at the Washington County Health Center from 8 a.m. to 9:30 a.m. daily.)