Summit County’s new environmental health director has responsibilities ranging from hot tubs to tanning salons
Nate Brooks is Summit County’s new environmental health director, a position with responsibilities ranging from monitoring air quality to verifying hot tub hygiene to making sure the tanning salon is up to code.
Plus, the office inspects each of the county’s 300 or so restaurants, all with a staff of about eight people.
Brooks is a microbiologist and Henefer native who started working for the county about 10 years ago as a quality assurance officer for the water quality lab tasked with pulling samples and testing them for contamination.
Now, he’s at the helm of the division and said his responsibilities are pretty simple, but stark.
“The focus currently is air, land and water,” Brooks said recently in his office at the Health Department in Round Valley. “We know growth is occurring and will continue … so how can we work with it to ensure that the future of Summit County is not at risk?”
Brooks took over on an interim basis for Phil Bondurant, who was promoted to deputy director of the Health Department in June. In October, the interim tag was removed and Brooks was officially designated as the environmental health director.
He has four children and is invested in the area, having graduated from North Summit High School and directed the North Summit Recreation District. He wants future generations to be able to enjoy the kind of nature he did as a kid.
Because of its size and current air quality levels, Summit County is not under an obligation to enforce air quality standards by taking steps like inspecting vehicles. But Brooks said he’s looking to focus on the issue by diving into the air quality data that’s been collected over the last 15 years or so.
When he started at the county’s water quality lab about a decade ago, he said it was run out of a coat closet at a county building in Coalville. It has since expanded, and he wants to see its services used more by residents.
“I just think we’re hiding a gem — we want to be able to expose that,” he said. “A lot of people are possibly drinking contaminated water at their house (and) don’t even know it. Pull a sample (and we could) possibly remediate the issue.”
He added that the lab will send an employee to collect the sample and then take it to the lab to analyze it, a service that isn’t offered at many similar facilities.
Another goal is to change how restaurants are inspected by increasing the Health Department’s presence at higher-risk places, like sushi restaurants that use raw ingredients, and possibly lessening the inspections at lower-risk facilities like gas stations.
He said the goal is to inspect restaurants twice a year — a tall task considering the Health Department covers all of Summit County, including Park City.
On top of that, the department inspects all of the schools; public drinking water sources, like the Mountain Regional Water Special Service District and Kamas city; day cares; food trucks; and is responsible for cleaning up hazardous material spills.
The semi-private hot tubs used in nightly rentals like Airbnbs are a worry for Brooks, and he thinks it’s an area that deserves more attention.
“There’s a hot tub on every deck in Park City. If they’re only staying one night, are they disinfecting it? Or are we sampling more than once a month at those facilities?” he said. “Those are the ones that really worry me. If it’s private behind your house, you’re the one getting in it. You have control to some degree.”
The Health Department has been able to add a water quality technician to help out in the lab, but Brooks said they’d need more personnel to be able to inspect all the hot tubs and restaurants in the area as often as he’d like.
Brooks said he understands when people view Health Department rules as onerous regulations, like when people have used a well on their land for 100 years and haven’t had any problems with it, only to be told they should pay to have the water tested.
But he said it’s for good reason: When bacteria in water turns to E. coli, there isn’t any change in taste, only potentially serious health effects. For $20, Summit County’s water lab will send out a technician to take a sample and test it. He recommends people who rely on residential wells do it twice a year, or at least around springtime when the risk is the highest.
He wants residents to know the department is reasonable and willing to listen to compromise.
“We want to be helpful to people and we are willing to work with our citizens to come up with solutions to problems,” he said. “(We) want to preserve what we have and look out for the future and ensure the same quality of life in Summit County that we have now.”
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