July 24, 2006
Environmental Staff Keeps Busy when the Heat Is On
Firemen’s field days, Harborfest, children’s camps, hiking and swimming –summertime is full of activities that make the season so special in our county.
But how do we know that the public pool has been disinfected, that our neighbor’s dog is protected from rabies, and the barbecued chicken from the food vendor has been properly cooked?
The Oswego County Health Department’s environmental staff spends much of the summer testing water systems, inspecting food vendors, pools and campgrounds, and vaccinating thousands of dogs and cats. The division has broad responsibilities that impact nearly every aspect of our life by minimizing public health threats. For Harborfest alone, food service inspectors will train, issue permits and inspect the food preparation areas of more than 100 food vendors.
The staff has regulatory authority to enforce New York State Public Health laws and state sanitary codes at schools, restaurants, campgrounds, beaches, motels, and public and private facilities around the county. They don’t get a lot of attention, but their work impacts us in many ways.
Some efforts are targeted to the general population, such as monitoring public water supplies, food safety in restaurants, and fire safety at hotels. Other programs target specific needs such as interventions to prevent illness from rabies, lead poisoning, failing septic systems, and the sale of tobacco to minors.
One issue that has received a lot of attention is enforcement of New York State’s indoor smoking law, also known as the Clean Indoor Air Act. The environmental division follows up on all complaints, determines if there is a violation, and refers requests for waivers to the County Board of Health. Although the majority of bars and restaurants are now complying with the law, the county still continues to receive complaints about restaurants and clubs where smoking is allowed. Of the 45 complaints that were received last year, ten places were found to be in violation and $3,500 in fines were collected.
Food service inspections are another large responsibility. Last year health sanitarians inspected 400 restaurants, 80 school cafeterias and day-care facilities, and hundreds of mobile and temporary food vendors. There were 148 public health hazards cited that required immediate action; thankfully, there were no documented outbreaks of food-borne illness.
An abundance of quality water is one of our county’s greatest resources, and monitoring our water supply is another vital responsibility of the environmental division. The staff inspects all public water supplies and tests to make sure that the water is not contaminated with coliform, E. coli bacteria or other impurities. A total of 419 water samples were tested for coliform bacteria last year; 222 tested positive. A licensed professional engineer reviews plans for housing subdivisions, septic systems, and works with local code enforcement officers to make sure the state health codes are enforced.
Here are some other highlights from the agency’s annual report:
I could continue to list several more activities that this productive staff performs. Summer is an especially busy time for them, and they deserve credit for the work they do to safeguard our communities. I want to thank Public Health Director Kathleen Smith, associate public health sanitarians Evan Walsh and Natalie Roy, and all of the sanitarian, engineering and support staff. They can be reached weekdays at 349-3557, and are available around the clock to handle rabies incidents and others types of emergencies at 341-0086.
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