State Environmental Health Programs Vary Widely, ASTHO Survey Finds
Johnson, Teddi Dineley, The Nation's Health
DESPITE SHRINKING budgets, the responsibilities of some state environmental health professionals have expanded to address new issues, according to a recent survey from the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials.
More than half of state environmental health directors added new environmental health activities to their programs in the past three years--many in response to legislative mandates, according to ASTHO's 2010 state environmental health directors' survey. The new activities include enforcing smoking bans and overseeing surveillance of harmful algal blooms and occupational health. In addition to new activities, more than 75 percent of state environmental health programs continue to include traditional environmental health activities such as food and public water supply protection and environmental monitoring. Additionally, a large majority of state environmental health programs provide important activities such as childhood lead poisoning prevention, environmental health risk assessment and recreational water protection.
"State environmental health programs are very diverse," said ASTHO Senior Director of Environmental Health Kerry Wyss, MEM, who discussed the survey results at APHA's 139th Annual Meeting in November. "Prior to 2006, there was very little information known on what environmental health services are consistent across the states."
In 2006, ASTHO gained an initial snapshot of environmental health services across the states when it administered its first survey to state environmental health directors. Enhanced and re-administered in June 2010, the latest survey includes 48 respondents from 47 states and one territory. States were asked to provide information about 17 environmental health programs, Wyss said, as well as to answer questions about funding sources, workforce, emerging issues and relevant legislative developments.
The results of the 2010 survey point to a wide variability in environmental health program responsibility from state to state. In many cases, the state health agency shares environmental health program responsibilities with different state agencies. According to the data, the number of environmental health programs administered by state environmental health directors ranges from four to 16 and averages between 10 and 11; the number of environmental health programs administered by state health agencies ranges from six to 17 and averages 13; and the number of environmental health programs administered by other state agencies ranges from zero to 15 but averages between seven and eight. …