Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Healthy Holidays: Give Thanks for Environmental Health

There are so many things to be thankful for; some of them that we may not even notice. Advances in environmental health have made our daily lives much healthier, but these are things we usually don’t notice.

Environmental health is the branch of public health that deals with how our natural and built environments affect human health. Understanding how our environments can make us sick allows us to take action to minimize those risks as a country, a state, as a community and as individuals.

Here are just a few aspects of environmental health to be thankful for.

Access to safe drinking water
The infrastructure that provides us access to water for drinking, cooking, and bathing is designed, monitored, and maintained to keep water as safe as possible. This allows us to go about our daily lives without worrying about getting sick from our drinking water. Thanks to environmental health, we monitor drinking water to make sure it’s safe. If you get your water from a city or a community well, your water is tested regularly. When a test reveals a health concern, you are notified promptly and can avoid the water until it is safe again. If you have your own well, it is up to you to get your water tested. Learn how to get your well water tested from our Drinking Water Program.

Organized waste collection
Before there was organized garbage collection, trash was dumped wherever it was convenient. This led to rodents that can carry diseases, living around homes, businesses, and in the streets. If you’ve ever spent time in a part of the world where organized waste collection is not standard (especially on a hot day), you can really appreciate our waste collection systems. The Thurston County Waste and Recovery Center works together with private companies to provide residents with safe and accessible waste collection, including free hazardous waste collection at HazoHouse.

Food safety regulations
Food safety standards and regulations have made it so that the food we eat is generally safe. When food safety standards are not followed or accidents happen, there are systems in place to recall unsafe foods and to enforce safety standards at restaurants. We also have resources such as www.foodsafety.gov to help us handle food in our own homes safely.

Wastewater treatment
Septic systems, sewer systems and wastewater treatment facilities have been environmental health game changers in communities around the world. Human waste contains bacteria that can make us sick with diseases like giardia and hepatitis A. Before these systems were in place, various methods were used to dispose of sewage which made diseases such as cholera and typhoid fever much more common.  Nowadays we don’t have to think much about what to do with it other than remembering to flush. But it doesn’t just disappear off of the earth; thankfully there is a 
system in place to dispose of it safely.

The many innovations in the history of environmental health have made our modern lives safer and healthier. That is something to be thankful for!

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Washing Your Hands – It’s really as important as they say!

By Elisa Sparkman, Education and Outreach Specialist

Since I was a small child, the importance of washing your hands was emphasized. It was part of a routine. After using the restroom and before eating hand washing was almost robotic. There were no questions about it.

If there is one thing that I can say I have learned since I began working for this public health department it is that washing your hands is really as important as they say. Actually I would say that it is even more important than they say! And I will answer the question you are probably thinking, No, I am not germophobic. I finally understand and appreciate how much hand washing does for us.

The fact that washing your hands well can reduce the spread of disease is probably not new to you. Bacteria gets on our hands easily from touching everyday items like hand rails, gas pumps, crosswalk buttons, toys, raw unwashed food, and our pets.

Did you know that frequent and thorough hand washing can also reduce your exposure to toxic chemicals? Toxic chemicals and metals from pollution float around in the air and make their way into dirt and into indoor air and dust. Toxic chemicals from agricultural, industrial, and residential pesticide application also make their way into homes as dust. Think about all of the dusty or dirt-covered items you touch each day. There is a good chance that toxic chemicals wind up on your hands and on many items you touch. We touch our faces, our lips, our water bottles, our phones, our computers, our food... you see where I am going with this? Washing your hands is important.

To be sure you are washing your hands well follow these simple rules.
  • Rub and scrub with soap for 20 seconds (singing the ABCs or Happy Birthday twice).
  • Use warm water.
  • Tip hands downward so water rinses the suds and yucky stuff off of your hands.
  • If possible, turn the faucet off with a paper towel.
  • At home, sanitize faucet handles often.

So when anybody asks me what the one thing is that I've learned since I started working at the health department I say, “Washing your hands is really as important, if not, more important, than they say!”

Thursday, November 13, 2014

Free Workshop on Household Hazardous Products on Saturday November 15

Come learn about the the hazards of common household products to people and the environment!

What: Free workshop, "Hazards on the Homefront."
When: Saturday November 15, 2014 2-3 p.m.
Where: LOTT's WET Science Center
   500 Adams Street NE Olympia, WA
Who: Ideal for ages 11 and up.

You'll learn how to read product labels for hazard levels and proper use, storage, and disposal of hazardous products. And learn about safer alternatives to common hazardous products though a fast-paced bingo game. 

Two lucky participants will win a green cleaning kit!

Did you miss this presentation? You're in luck! You can schedule this presentation or a presentation on another topic for your group of 10-30 or give us a call to find out when the next public presentation is. 360-867-2674.

See the rest of the WET Science Center's Activities & Events!

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Ebola: Get the facts

Over the past few months, the Ebola virus has been a top news story. It’s only natural to be concerned. The best action you can take is to get the facts. Be aware that there is misinformation on the Internet. The most reliable information you can get on the Ebola situation nationally and locally will be from the Centers for Disease Control, the Washington State Department of Health, and your local health department.

What you need to know:

  • Those most at risk of getting Ebola are healthcare workers and family members caring for someone who is sick with Ebola; the risk to the general public is very low. 
  • There are no confirmed cases in Washington State. 
  • Ebola can only be spread by direct contact with the bodily fluids (like blood, vomit, urine, feces, semen, sweat, saliva) of someone who is sick with the disease. 
  • You do not get Ebola from casual contact with others, air, water or food that is commercially available in the U.S. 
  • A person with Ebola is only contagious when they are showing symptoms.

More information about Ebola: