NEHA's 2002 Annual Educational Conference and Exhibition Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Special Report)

By Benn, Kristin; Towey, Tim | Journal of Environmental Health, October 2002 | Go to article overview

NEHA's 2002 Annual Educational Conference and Exhibition Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Special Report)


Benn, Kristin, Towey, Tim, Journal of Environmental Health


Introduction

The 66th NEHA Annual Educational Conference (AEC) was a great success. It was held in Minneapolis, Minnesota, from June 30 to July 3, 2002, returning to NEHA Region 4 (Iowa, Minnesota, Nebraska, North Dakota, South Dakota, and Wisconsin) for the first time in 30 years.

As a result of the events of September 11, 2001--and the anthrax-laced letters that followed--attendees were particularly aware of their roles as potential responders to a terrorist event. From the keynote address to the attendance numbers at the counter-bioterrorism sessions to the stirring video at the president's banquet, it was clear that terrorism preparedness was on the minds of attendees as never before. One attendee commented that the "entire bioterrorism section was excellent!"

Despite the gravity of the subject on which so many attendees were focussing, an atmosphere of enthusiasm pervaded the proceedings. People were energized and eager to learn--and not just about terrorism preparedness. The sessions on food safety, indoor air quality, onsite wastewater systems, and other topics also attracted large audiences. Feedback on the conference was some of the best that NEHA has ever received: I feel like I got to meet and talk with the cream-of-the crop in environmental health across this country," said one attendee.

Opening Ceremony and Keynote Address

The opening ceremony and keynote address were well attended. There was much excitement at the prospect of hearing Dr. Mike Olsterholm--particularly in front of his hometown crowd.

The opening ceremony started with presentation of the colors by the U.S. Marines Support Squad #471. NEHA President-Elect Jim Dingman gave a brief invocation, and President Laura Studevant welcomed everyone to the conference. She then extended a special welcome to the international environmental health practitioners, which included visitors from Israel, Great Britain, New Zealand, Iceland, Brazil, and Canada. She also recognized new NEHA members and first-time conference attendees, expressing a hope that they would catch "NEHA Fever" as she did some 20 years ago after attending her first AEC.

Special guest Pat Bloomgren, director of environmental health for the Minnesota Department of Health, welcomed the AEC to her state. The history of Minnesota has been intertwined with the history of public health and the environment, she said. She noted the particular importance of water in both histories.

Ms. Bloomgren also discussed changes in the field of environmental health, both in Minnesota and nationwide. New challenges include communicating across language and cultural barriers. As an example from Minnesota, Bloomgren noted that in the small town of Worthington, some 50 dialects are spoken. She also remarked on the need for greater vigilance and greater cooperation with outside partners as environmental health professionals take on responsibilities in terrorism preparedness.

Despite these new challenges, Bloomgren concluded, the traditional role of the sanitarian continues to be important. She recounted a story that had recently made the news in Minnesota. The incident involved a cleanup of dead turkeys and illustrated the need for education of the type that an environmental health specialist can provide: Apparently following the cleanup, volunteers were given the option of washing their hands with running water or washing them in a community bucket. All the volunteers who chose the community bucket contracted Campylobacter infections.

Following the special welcome, President Studevant presented the NEHA awards for the year. For complete descriptions of this years award winners, please see page 26.

President Studevant then introduced the 2002 keynote speaker, Dr. Michael Olsterholm. Dr. Olsterholm is one of the nation's leading experts on infectious diseases and bioterrorism. …

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