Health Dept. lacks environmental experts
December 3, 2013
From immunizations and communicable diseases to food safety and environmental health, the Summit County Health Department handles many facets of the county’s health safety issues. The Health Department’s Board, however, is missing a major component, its director says.
"We don’t have a single environmental health expert on [the Board]," said Health Dept. Director Richard Bullough. "We can’t seem to recruit anybody and we can’t get anybody to apply."
Bullough said what often ends up occurring is that when the Board of Health has decisions to be made related to environmental health, it ends up going with the Health Department’s recommendation. He is suggesting the formation of an environmental expert sub-committee that would be comprised of experts.
"We are in a position to take a longer look at the issue of septic and sewer [systems] in Summit County," Bullough said. "This group could advise us with respect to that."
An ad hoc sub-committee of three people who would serve on a volunteer basis is what Bullough would expect. The sub-committee would review information that is presented to the Board as well as handle appeals related to issues such as restaurant inspections, septic systems or environmental health.
"When we have appeals, it’s not fair for the appellant to come in front of a group of people that doesn’t have the expertise to make a decision on the appeal," Bullough said. "That’s not the way we want to do business."
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The Health Dept. will also form a Water Quality Advisory Board, which will be dealing especially with septic and sewer system issues, which the county will be more actively engaged with in the future. The recently installed sewer pipeline from the Bitner Road roundabout to Silver Creek is one area of involvement and Bullough said the Health Dept. wants to identify where potential growth areas are.
"We will be implementing more on-site wastewater policies and more actively planning sewer," Bullough said. "Even in areas where there aren’t sewer treatment plants, we’ll be looking for ways to more efficiently facilitate that."
Although having environmental health experts on board isn’t "urgent" in the same vein as managing communicable diseases, he said it is one of the most important issues he is dealing with right now.
In the realm of communicable illnesses, Bullough said pertussis (or whooping cough) is present throughout the state of Utah and is something that "ebbs and flows."
"Right now it’s flowing. We have a significant number of cases in central Utah. It kills infants and young children and a significant number of people received [vaccination] exceptions for their children," Bullough said.
Bullough stressed that those parents who wish to exempt their child from the pertussis vaccine could find their children excluded from school in certain situations.
In order to exempt a child from a vaccine, an exemption form must be submitted through the Health Dept. stating that "the person has either a personal belief opposed to immunizations, or is a bona fide member of a specified, recognized religious organization whose teachings are contrary to immunizations," according to the National Vaccine Information Center’s website.
Bullough said pertussis currently "appears to be something we’re dealing with more commonly than in the past."
For more information on environmental health and immunizations, visit summitcountyhealth.org.