Burlington Universal Waste Recycling Initiative Update
by Todd Dresser
Recently, there has been much discussion regarding the need to reduce the amount of mercury and toxic heavy metals entering the environment via the disposal of solid waste. In response to this problem, the state and federal governments have adopted Universal Waste Regulations prohibiting the disposal of the following heavy metal bearing articles as solid waste: fluorescent lamps, electric ballasts, computer components, and batteries. Locally, we became concerned about this problem when we learned that many of the nearby solid waste incinerators were found to be releasing elevated concentrations of mercury to the atmosphere. As a result, we were concerned about what pollutants we may inhale as well as what materials may be deposited into our surface water supply. In response to these concerns, we developed a Universal Waste Recycling Initiative as a means to reduce the amount of mercury and heavy metals entering the solid waste stream. The following is a general description of the approach we have undertaken and the successes achieved.
In January 1998, the Burlington Board of Health began an outreach effort to educate and inform the local community regarding the need to properly manage a variety of Universal Waste items. In addition, we also began to require local businesses to develop Universal Waste management plans. In order to assist this effort and to provide a financial incentive to comply, the Board of Health also established a municipal Universal Waste Recycling Program at this time. As a governmental agency, the Board was able to utilize a recycling contract negotiated for the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and to then offer this competitive pricing to our participants. An additional benefit to this approach has been that many businesses have found it appealing to participate in our program because we have made it easy for them to comply by being prepared to manage their waste.
Initially, we focused our recruitment efforts on the facilities we expected to generate a large volume of Universal Waste (e.g. office parks, malls, and multi-tenant property management companies). A combination of educational outreach and municipal coordination has prompted more than 60 companies responsible for the management of over 200 locations to join the program. In addition, another 20 businesses responsible for the management of another 45 facilities have developed independent recycling initiatives. The quantifiable success of the program is the amount of material we have been able to collect between March 15 and July 31, 1998: 42,000 linear feet of lighting (approximately 11,000 lights), 8,000 pounds of ballasts, 2500 pounds of computer equipment, and 100 pounds of batteries. Prior to our program, the bulk of these materials would most likely have been disposed of as solid waste.
This effort has shown us that we can work with local businesses to quickly and easily obtain significant results in removing toxic metals from the solid waste stream. In addition, we have also been contacted by a number of firms located outside of Burlington who would like to join our program.
For more information regarding this program please contact Todd Dresser at the Burlington Board of Health at 781-270-1956 or via e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Truck Emission Survey
NESCAUM (Northeast States for Coordinated Air Use Management) is assisting citizens’ groups in the northeast states (CT, MA, ME, NH, NJ, NY, RI, VT) in surveying the extent of diesel vehicle emissions in their communities. The project will gather data and draw attention to the problem of heavily smoking trucks and buses.
Diesel trucks and buses emit soot or small particles that can travel deep into the lungs when breathed and aggravate asthma, bronchitis and other respiratory problems and exacerbate environmental problems including smog and visibility. Despite representing less than 5 percent of the vehicle miles traveled, diesel powered vehicles emit more than half the particulate matter and almost 13 percent of all oxides of nitrogen (an important ingredient in smog) emitted by all vehicles.
Some of the compounds in diesel emissions are known to cause cancer. The great majority of visible smoke emissions from diesel engines result from poor maintenance and/or tampering with emission controls. It is these visible emissions that are targeted in NESCAUM’s diesel monitoring project. However, improving maintenance will reduce emission of all pollutants.
Communities can use information on emissions to pinpoint pollution problems, advocate for improved maintenance programs–especially for publicly owned or operated fleets–and help pass legislation and regulations for local trucks and buses.
Anyone wishing to get their community, group, classroom or school involved can contact Barbara Berney at NESCAUM, <email@example.com>, 129 Portland Street, Boston, MA 02114, (617) 367-8540.
The Editor’s Page
This issue marks a transition for MAHB, as Paul Jacobsen steps down at the end of the year, having served with distinction as our President since 1993. Paul first joined the MAHB Executive Board in 1991, and will remain with us as an ex officio board member. I have enjoyed working with Paul – his energy and committment to local boards of health make him a valuable human resource.
Paul was recently appointed Deputy Commissioner for the Department of Public Health. He has played a vital role in sheparding the Local Health Coordinating Council, and in the birth of the Institute for Local Public Health. Local boards of health have benefited from Paul’s pragmatic approach to the problems they encounter. Drawing from his experiences with 11 years of service on the Millis Board of Health, Paul will continue to be a strong voice for local public health.
Our president-elect is Richard Kanoff, an attorney with the Boston law firm of Keegan Werlin, & Pabian specializing in energy, environmental and health matters. He is serving his 12 th year on the Harvard Board of Health, and has been on the MAHB Executive Board since 1994. He also the Northeast Trustee of the National Association of Local Boards of Health(NALBOH).
1998 Certification & Training
The next issue of the Quarterly will publish a summary of this year’s certification program evaluation. The steering committee will meet next month to begin planning for next fall’s program.
Skin Cancer Grants Still Available
As reported in the Summer Quarterly, MAHB has available to member boards $2,000 skin cancer mini-grants targeting children with educational programs. For more information, please contact the office.
The technology subcommittee of the Local Health Coordinating Council is seeking information regarding computer use by boards of health. To assist in this important task, MAHB and MHOA are circulating a computer survey. If your board has not yet responded, you will soon be hearing from Ed Bertorelli, MAHB’s Community Outreach Coordinator. The primary purpose of this survey is to determine how many boards are NOT connected to the internet and why. Both DEP and DPH are anxious to help boards of health join the information revolution.
Marcia Elizabeth Benes
A Perspective on Food Regulations
by Anthony S. Brunetta, Director
If we wish to make a major impact on the prevention of food borne illnesses, it is critical that food industry managers move from the “bare bones” verbal support for food safety initiatives to active, focused leadership roles. An outstanding organization sees food safety as part of their operational culture. They provide high level training on an ongoing basis understanding that training creates positive habits. However, like the weather, many managers talk about the importance of food safety plans and employee training but few really do anything about it. Perhaps they view the prevention of foodborne illness much in the way they view a winter storm, they dislike the inconveniences it causes but feel there is little they can do to change the outcome.
Many food establishment managers are compliance oriented rather than prevention driven. They maintain minimal food safety policies and are content to pay fines or risk closure when inspections reflect less that satisfactory conditions. By their reasoning, it’s just a cost of doing business. As a result, managers are reactive dealing with post foodborne illness cleanup activities rather than pro-active in focusing on the prevention of the illnesses. These managers view health inspectors as adversaries. They reason, “Everyone knows that the principal focus of a health inspector is to put innocent food establishments out of business”. These managers tend to look for the magic bullet that will make the problem go away with the least effort.They don’t want more regulations… and now comes certification.
The Department of Public Health is revising the state sanitary code to be more in line with the FDA Food Code. The new code will include provisions for food manager certification standards. I am representing MAHB on the advisory committee to the DPH working on the food manager certification segment of the code. The committee includes representatives from the food industry, regulatory agencies, testing organizations, various associations, consultants and educators. As the representative for MAHB, I have put forward the suggestions and concerns of the many health board members I have spoken to. While advisory board members overwhelmingly support a food manager certification program for Massachusetts, each has their own ideas as to what an effective program should (or should not) include and are generally reflective of what’s best for their own agendas.
According to a study of states with food manager certification regulations, little or no positive changes in food safety and sanitation practices were observed. It was found that, in many cases, owners/managers lacked the time, desire or communication skills to use the acquired knowledge effectively and to relate it to their work environment. It was recommended that food manager certification programs be supplemented with additional direct training to the food workers. This is particularly important when one considers the changing mix of food workers with language barriers and various ethnic and cultural backgrounds.
For some managers, food manager certification may be the stimulus to move to higher levels of food safety and sanitation in their establishments. For others, a food manager certification certificate will only serve to show they have met a regulatory requirement. How the final standards are written, applied and monitored will ultimately affect the success of the program. Whatever form the final draft ultimately takes, food manager certification regulations will happen in Massachusetts.
The author can be contacted by phone (978) 688-8745, fax (978)-687-6808, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
LETTERS TO THE EDITOR
At the Boston University School of Public Health Practice Office, our goal is to foster collaborative relationships with public health programs in the greater Boston area so that the health and educational needs of the community are addressed. The Field Practice Placement program allows public health students to contribute to this goal, and gain hands-on experienceworking in the field.
We are seeking to expand the list of potential placement opportunities for our students. As you consider the needs in your community, you may realize that a student placement would benefit you. MPH students come from a variety of backgrounds, and focus on academic concentration areas that include environmental health, epidemiology and biostatistics, health law, health services, international health, maternal and child health, and social and behavioral sciences. Placement projects vary widely, depending on agencies’ needs and students’ skills and interests.
Field placement students are supervised by an agency staff member to ensure a work experience that is productive both for the student and the organization; students also work closely with faculty preceptors to ensure a valuable learning experience. Placements last for several months or longer, with students spending anywhere from four to sixteen (or more) hours per week on-site, depending on the needs of the participating organization and the number of credits being earned by the student. Compensation or a stipend may be offered.
MPH Field Practice Coordinator Practice Office Boston University School of Public Health 617-638-4656/fax 638-4483
To the Editor,
Weymouth currently has a town meeting, Selectmen and a 5 member elected board of health. The Charter Commission is proposing a city council and board of health appointed by a mayor. The commission has asked for examples of how pressure from an appointing authority resulted in a less effective board of health. I would appreciate members calling or writing me with their experiences and thoughts.
Mary McAdams R.N. Health Board Member
21 Erin Way Weymouth MA 02190 (781) 331-1483
Thank-you to DPH
As chairman of the Essex board selectmen in 1994, I was involved in the negotiation of an agreement between my town and the state and federal governments, the goal of which was to eliminate pollution of the Essex River caused by failing or nonexistent septic systems. The agreement required among other things, the inspection and upgrade of septic systems over a seven-year period, with the systems which could not be upgraded according toTitle 5 becoming the responsibility of the town to find, if possible, an off-site solution.
Within months of signing the agreement, it became clear that the three-member, elected board of health, which was responsible for the majority of the initial work embodied in the agreement, was not effectively carrying out its responsibilities under the agreement. Attempts by the selectmen to resolve these issues through normal processes filled the newspapers with controversy but were unsuccessful. The board of selectmen and board health became two elected boards pitted against each other with no expedient legal process to resolve the conflict.
An attempt to convert the boh to an appointed board failed at town meeting. With the success of the town’s pollution abatement program hanging in the balance, I scrapped my intention to seek re-election as selectmen and instead ran for the board of health. I was elected by a slim majority in May 1997. Upon my election, the two incumbent members resigned and the selectmen appointed to new members to fill the vacancies. We then initiated steps to resolve the deficiencies of the previous administration.
The Wastewater Program Coordinator is responsible for other obligations of the court order and reports to the selectmen. He prepares enforcement orders for the board health and tracks compliance in order to satisfy the court order. He works for both boards but is ultimately responsible to the board selectmen. His task is to insure that the town does not violate provisions of the order and incur stipulated penalties. The Town’s agreement and Title 5 were being handled effectively but since none of the new members had previous board of health experience we were ignorant of the broad range of duties for which we are responsible.
This is where the Department of Public Health came to our assistance. I called the DPH and explained our situation. My first contact with Priscilla Luongo of the Division of Food and Drugs. She was extremely helpful in explaining our duties relative to her department, providing me with reports on the previous board’s performance and referring me to other departments which could inform me of our other responsibilities. Allison Hackbarth, Beth Altman and Linda Sperandio were similarly helpful. These DPH employees outlined the duties of a board health related to public health issues, providing us with DPH publications and recommending strategies that we could use to serve our constituents.With their guidance, we put in place a management structure which utilizes full-time staff to perform the daily duties and to coordinate specialized private contractors to carry out the other tasks associated with the board of health. In this fashion, we provide a broader and more effective array of services at a lower cost than existed when we took office.
As a local board we depend upon the DPH to keep us informed and educated on a wide array of issues. To date my experience with DPH has been very positive.
Ed Neal Essex BOH Chairman
Wendell Seeks Info on Alternative Septic Systems
The Town of Wendell is looking into alternative septic systems for our town buildings: Town Hall – sporadic daily use with several large usages each month; Town Library – average 83 patrons/ 3 day week. Town Offices – 1-5 people in and out with larger group meetings 5-10 times per week. We could possibly invite several residences to join the system. We would appreciate any information concerning possible alternative systems, or other towns in similar situations, or possible contacts who might be able to aid us. Please call 978-544 3395 or write Septic Committee, Wendell, MA 01379, fax (978) 544-7467.
Historic, exciting, great, much-needed, long-overdue, contradictory and confusing. Some of the words to describe the new Massachusetts Institute for Local Public Health.
Continuing the work of the Local Health 2000 Commission, the Local Health Coordinating Council, early in its deliberations under the leadership of DPH Commissioner Howard Koh with DEP Commissioner David Struhs, recognized the importance and value of undertaking collaborative efforts toward advancing education and training for local public health leaders and practitioners. Thus, the Coordinating Council unanimously supported the creation of the Institute for Local Public Health, fulfilling one of the recommendations of the Health 2000 Commission.
Simply stated, the Massachusetts Institute for Local Public Health represents opportunity: an opportunity to increase the capacities and capabilities of local public health agencies throughout the Commonwealth through education and research. The Institute is an opportunity for state agencies and the public health graduate schools to respond to the leadership, professional and technical education needs of boards of health and health departments as they deliver the full range of public health services. The Institute is an opportunity to build-upon and assist existing training initiatives, such as our MAHB Training and Certification Program; to foster and facilitate educational efforts already being developed; and to seek and help organize new, additional education programs, especially in the area of public health leadership. The Institute will identify topics and coordinate resources for public health research, technical development and demonstration projects with a focus on local health practices and outcomes.
It is an ambitious agenda, but through collaboration, the Institute will attain its objectives. The Institute has already achieved some early successes in strengthening communications among the several public health associations and interests group. The Institute in turn has been advanced by the effectiveness of the inter-relationships between the Departments of Public Health and Environmental Protection and among various interest groups. And probably for the first time in recent times, the graduate schools and programs in public health (University of Massachusetts, Boston University, Harvard and Tufts) have come together with a new, serious interest in local public health practices.
The inaugural event sponsored by the Institute was held on December 16, 1998. Over 100 local, state, academic and association public health leaders gathered at the Massachusetts Medical Society headquarters to attend an Invitational Conference. The dean or a senior professor from each of the four schools spoke to the issues of community-based public health education and research and of the roles of community physicians in local health activities. Breakout sessions then offered an occasion for local public health leaders to describe their unmet needs and to seek ways by which the Institute for Local Public Health might begin to meet these needs. Judith Kurland, Regional Director of the Department of Health and Human Services, concluded the program with a strong statement of support for and commitment to the goals of the Institute. The Winter MAHB Quarterly will summarize the Conference proceedings.
The first-year priorities for the Institute are: 1) to categorize and publish information on current education and training programs available to local public health leaders and practitioners; 2) to assist and, as needed, to augment training programs offered by the Institute’s partnership organizations; 3) to facilitate board members, health officers and public health nurses in participating in their continuing education programs; 4) to develop resources for the establishment of public health leadership training programs; 5) to conduct at least two state-wide invitational conferences on critical local public health policy and practice issues; and 6) to encourage and support community-based local public health practices research.
Yes, it’s historic, exciting and perhaps a little confusing. The Massachusetts Institute for Local Public Health, with the partnership support it has already received from all interests, will surely succeed in improving the infrastructure for local public health agencies. The success of the Institute will be judged by the levels to which the knowledge and skills of board members, health officers, public health nurses and the full range of the local public health voluntary and paid work force are raised.
The EMU/EEE Connection
Eastern Equine Encephalitis (EEE) is a rare but serious disease caused by a virus. The disease can cause symptoms of high fever, stiff neck, headache and lack of energy. The most serious symptom is swelling of the brain called encephalitis which can result in coma and death. There is no cure for EEE, and three out of every ten people who contract the disease die from it. All doctors can do is lower the fever and ease pressure on the brain and spinal cord
EEE is spread primarily by mosquitoes. It is carried by birds that live in freshwater swamps and is transmitted by mosquitoes which bite these birds. Humans and horses can be infected by mosquitoes which bite the birds and then bite humans or horses. – The disease cannot be transmitted via mosquitoes from humans and horses to other humans and horses because the disease cannot reproduce in enough volume in humans and horses to be transmitted in this fashion. The Department of Public Health regularly traps mosquitos to monitor the presence of the virus before it becomes a threat to human populations.
The same mosquitoes which prey on the birds that carry EEE also bite emus, ostriches and rheas. In these large birds, EEE causes an enteric disease and the blood that is shed in feces and other bodily excretions contains the virus in sufficient quantities to transmit disease to other animals and humans.
Although the threat is believed to be low, this may potentially increase the risk to humans in an EEE outbreak. Boards of health, especially in areas which are often subject to encephalitis, should keep track of these exotic birds within their community. To this end, boards can adopt local regulations for registration and also set minimum standards for the keeping of both exotic and farm animals. Emus are not considered domestic animals and a permit from the Department of Fish and Wildlife is required for transportation.
MAHB Congratulates the Environmental League of Massachusetts on its 100th Anniversary
The Environmental League of Massachusetts is an independent, member-based,nonprofit organization established 100 years ago as the Massachusetts Forestry Association. Over time, ELM became involved with pollution, waste disposal, recycling, biodiversity, and toxics: the whole range of modern environmental issues. Reflecting this broadened area of concern and ELM’s research, watchdog and education work, the organization was renamed the Environmental League of Massachusetts in 1993.
ELM is the only organization which works exclusively for strong environmental policies in Massachusetts, concentrating resources on the state level, where believe that their knowledge, expertise, and reputation have the strongest impact.
Rivers Protection ELM led the efforts to pass the Rivers Protection Act, which is the single most important environmental legislation this decade. The Rivers Act establishes a protected zone of 200 feet along 9,000 Massachusetts river miles. Thanks to this important new law, we can now begin to reclaim the more than two-thirds of our states river miles that are unsafe for fishing and swimming.
Open Space ELM won passage of the $400 million Open Space Bond Act of 1996, which will provide millions of dollars for the state to purchase additional greenspace, as well as maintain parks, forests, trails, and beaches throughout the Commonwealth.
State Parks ELM’s efforts restored a proposed 10 percent ($2.5 million) cut in the parks agency budget. This cut would have resulted in further deterioration of our state parks system. As it stands, Massachusetts ranks 41st in the country on parks restoration and maintenance spending as a percentage of the total state budget.
Toxic Chemical Use ELM has worked to make state government and businesses adopt reduced use of toxic chemicals as the first strategy for dealing with pollution. Many companies are getting the message and cutting back on their use of toxics, but much remains to be done.
Endangered Species -In addition to protecting thousands of acres of habitat through the Rivers and Open Space Bond Bills, ELM has spearheaded efforts to increase the budget for the states’ Natural Heritage/Endangered Species Program.
MAHB has worked with ELM on a host of legislative issues, from Administrative Penalties, and Toxics Use Reduction to fighting Title 5 bills which would have preempted local boards of health.
Acceptance of Citizen Activist of the Year Award to the Hilltown Anti-Herbicide Coalition
October 22 at the Environmental League of Massachusetts (ELM) 100th Annual Meeting
by Ken Kipen
From early on, it’s been the momentum of the issue itself that has given us the opportunities to leverage our gains. Mass Highway’s program of spraying herbicides for the purpose of killing roadside weeds was seen by a wide cross- section of political persuasions to be a needless human and environmental health-hazard arising from highway run-off and wind-drift of the chemicals. Proof of this inevitability, the regular occurrence of road-salt pollution of private wells, has allowed a constituency of opposition to be easily organized in western counties, and to grow dramatically in a relatively short time.
The Coalition had its first meeting last December. By April, Ashfield had been exempted from this year’s spraying. As opposition spread throughout the region, Mass highway periodically issued edicts that not only kept that constituency agitated, but enraged town officials as well. In May, MassHighway’s Commissioner wrote back to 11 select boards that had written to him opposing the program, that their towns could avoid being sprayed only if they agreed to maintain state highway guardrails with town crews, at town expense. Opposition sparked quickly into outrage.
The issue was now aflame in the entire region. In early and June a public information meeting took place in Ashfield to describe the spray-program, and solicit public comment. More than 250 over-wrought residents attended from four counties. So many lined up to speak their opposition that a great number were left unheard. Anticipating this, postcards addressed to Mass highway were made available so everyone who came would have the opportunity to express their rage then and there, and over a hundred more did so. DFA Commissioner Healy and six members of his Pesticide Bureau came to the meeting to quell the uprising. They were challenged continuously during their presentation by a crowd unmollified by assurances of the safety of the chemicals, or of so-called “controlled application.” Civil disobedience was openly advocated if spray-crews were encountered. MassHighway’s high Commissioner didn’t appear at either meeting.
Just after that meeting MAHB’s Marcia Benes and Richard Taylor, the latter having testified there, followed up by writing a four-page letter to the Commissioner, challenging DFA’s Pesticide Bureau approval of the chemicals in the absence of studies, lack of identification of inert ingredients, and non-consideration in benefit-risk assessments of “projected costs incurred from groundwater and aquifer contamination from each herbicide as well as the impact of each on health care costs from persons contracting acute and chronic illnesses associated with their use.” Seeing public opposition building within Franklin, Hampshire and Berkshire Counties, now with the accelerating support of town health and select boards, Senator Rosenberg and the Western Mass. Legislative Delegation intervened on behalf of their constituents. By late June Mass highway had rescinded its edicts, and called off spraying in fully half the state from just west of Worcester to the N.Y. line, excepting 1-91 and 1-291 from Springfield south.
Our campaign is ongoing. Last June Mass Highway’s herbicide-spray program was fully carried out in eastern Massachusetts where there was little local opposition. The Coalition now needs to become an east-west Alliance to defeat the program statewide. The challenge looms larger as a new 5-year Vegetation Management Plan is now being formulated by MassHighway, concurrent with the DFA Pesticide Bureau’s revision of its Rights-of-Way Regulation. Early drafts allow spraying within wetlands and 25′ of rivers, streams, or reservoirs, egregious exemptions from the 100′-200′ buffer-zone requirements of the Wetlands and River Protection Acts.
As awards often inspire rededication, our acceptance directs renewed energy towards the greater resolve made necessary by this more formidable threat. We vow to resist with all available means this complicity of state agencies that would use our tax money for such a trivial purpose, the certain real cost of which is polluted wildlife habitat and poisoned drinking water resources. Alaska, California, and most recently the Northeast Kingdom of Vermont have recognized this and already outlaw the practice.
We asked all candidates for Governor for position statements regarding MassHighway’s guardrail herbicide-spray program. Now, we seek help in forging the east-west Alliance so critically needed to eliminate this needless human and environmental health-hazard from our state.
(The Hilltown Anti-herbicide Coalition may be reached via Ken Kipen by e-mail to email@example.com, by USPS to Box 183, Ashfield, MA 01330, or by phone at 413/628-3854)
Emu Encephalitis Outbreak Challenges Essex BOH
by Ed Neal, Essex BOH Chairman
On Tuesday, October 6, 1998, DPH informed me that a diseased emu from a farm in Essex had tested positive for Eastern Equine Encephalitis, a disease which can be fatal in humans. While the risk of infection to humans was low due to the prevailing cold temperatures and low mosquito activity, he reported that there was some potential risk to humans. Accordingly, I contacted the local newspaper and succeeded in having a notice published that evening informing people that they should take precautions against mosquito bites.
From Tuesday until Thursday I heard nothing more from DPH about emus, but that morning I received a call from the Gloucester Daily Times who informed me that there were now seven dead birds and wanted to know if I knew any more about the incident. I told her that I was unaware of the death of additional animals but that the degree of threat to the human population remained the same whether there was one or many birds infected. Further, I informed her that the proper precautions also remained the same. My office also received a call from a concerned citizen questioning the Town’s policy on mosquito control. Knowing that Essex had dropped out of the local mosquito control program over a decade before, I called DPH to get direction and information on this aspect of the emu matter.
The State Lab informed me that it was the Department’s recommendation that Towns belong to a mosquito control program and gave me the number of the local program director so I could further investigate the issue. In the course of our conversation I related the question from the local newspaper about seven birds dead and my concern about the growing magnitude of this incident. The State Lab. person faxed me a DPH press release announcing a “public health advisory” relative to the emu incident stating that seven birds had died and other birds in the flock appeared ill.
Since our Board requires “keeping of animal” permits and that we had no permit or knowledge of anyone who possessed such a large number of emus. I requested the location of the farm. I was referred to Fish & Wildlife who had jurisdiction over this matter because emus are not considered domesticated animals.
It was at this time that I learned that many state agencies were involved in this incident including the Environmental Police. Calls to Fish and Wildlife resulted in my being transferred to voice mail. Frustrated, I called the Environmental Police and spoke to Officer Dave Brouilette who was the best source of information yet encountered. Officer Broulliette informed me that there was indeed a herd of 24 emus of which at least half had died and were buried on site. The remaining birds had been segregated into two groups, one which contained the visibly sick animals and one composed of apparently health birds. He told me the birds were under quarantine.
When asked the location of the farm, he told me that he had been instructed by DPH not to disclose the location. He did however, state that the Board of Health should have been notified before the on-site burials took place. He gave me the phone number of the veterinarian from Food and Agriculture who had inspected the farm. After more frustration with voice mail I resolved to call back to my original contact at DPH and confront whoever was responsible for withholding the information about the site from me.
By this time it was approximately 3:00 p.m. and I had been on and off the telephone since before noon trying to get the full story about this incident, the magnitude of which seemed to grow by the hour. I was not getting any work done in my business and, given my previous positive relationship with DPH, I could not believe that they would withhold information from me or my board.
The call back to DPH was an unpleasant one with two people agreeing with me unofficially that I should receive all the existing information. Finally however, I obtained the location of the farm and the name of the individual who had brought the initial sample to Tufts Medical for analysis. A jurisdictional issue among the state agencies involved was the main excuse given for withholding this information. I believe that any and all information possessed by DPH on an issue involving a threat to the public health should immediately be released to a local BOH on request if not forwarded automatically.
In the end, the key to my obtaining all the other information was that the State Lab informed me that the person who had brought the sample to Tufts was the local veterinarian who employed our Town Animal Health Inspector, Pam Stone. I called the veterinarians’ office and Pam answered the phone. She had been on vacation in California until 2:00 a.m. Wednesday and had not returned the calls on her answering machine including our calls to her from the BOB office. Pam informed me that her boss had assisted in having the samples tested at Tufts but not otherwise involved in the emu incident.
Pam put me in contact with Mike Cahill from the Department of Food and Agriculture. He was able to contact his colleague, Dr. Lorraine O’Connor, the veterinarian who had inspected and overseen activity at the farm. Dr. O’Connor called me from her home at approximately 6:00 PM and gave me all the information about the farm the condition of the remaining animals, the method of disposal of the dead animals, and the potential threat to the human population.
The level of information provided by Dr. O’Connor was what I felt was appropriate and necessary for a local Board of Health. I wanted to know that a competent professional was in charge of the incident and that everything was being handled in an appropriate and safe manner. I wanted to know who this person was so that if any questions arose, I could get answers in a timely fashion. I needed to know if there was anything that I should be doing or telling other people not to do. It should not have taken me six hours to accomplish this!
In the final analysis, this story should not be about a lack of communication but rather about a number of state agencies working together very professionally to address an extremely unusual incident that possessed overlapping jurisdictional implications. Because emus are not considered domesticated animals, this incident fell under the jurisdiction of the Division of Fish and Wildlife. Since Fish & Wildlife does not have a veterinarian on staff, Dr. O’Connor of Food and Agriculture volunteered her services to ensure that all measures were taken to ensure the health and safety of the surviving emus while advising public health officials of the potential threat to the human population.
The DPH staff person responding to this event was also pressed into service. His normal duties are related to the monitoring of the threat of encephalitis to the human population but he actually assisted in removing the dead animals from their pen in order to attempt to isolate the apparently healthy animals from the disease. Since he was inoculated against encephalitis, he was the best prepared to perform this function and did so willingly and on his own initiative.
Other departments were involved in this incident and worked cooperatively to assist the professionals who were directly working on the problem. This incident is such a good example of state employees working together, utilizing their particular skills and expertise to address an unusual occurrence regardless of their agency affiliation, that I believe that it would be regrettable to not review and evaluate our collective performance.
Those who responded so professionally should be commended for their willingness to go beyond their normal call of duty. Regular protocols should be adopted to deal in the future with any similar event. We should also work to address the lack of communication that caused me so much discomfort on Oct. 3rd. Food and Agriculture’s policy of not making public the quarantining of farm animals, was misinterpreted by some at DPH that this information was confidential and should not be shared with the local board of health. This error should be addressed so that it never happens again. Additionally, since Fish and Game and Food and Agriculture were involved, these agencies should take steps to ensure that incidents involving a potential public health threat are reported to the local BOH by the personnel involved. If it is the policy that all parties involved notify the local BOH, there is far less likelihood of a communication breakdown.
The importance of this information was emphasized when I discovered that the Essex BOH sanitarian, a private engineer, a septic system installer and two soil evaluators were on the quarantined property on matters related to a septic system upgrade on Oct 7th , Despite the fact that one was an employee of the Essex Board of Health, these individuals were totally unaware that the property was under quarantine or that it was the property highlighted in the newspapers.. While it seems that the threat of exposure was minimal, they would probably have postponed their activities on the subject property until this matter was totally resolved.
Ironically, on Saturday, October 10th, I received a call from the public relations director of the Topsfield Fair who happens to live in Essex. She questioned me about the status of the emu issue and informed me that there were two emus from a farm in West Gloucester on display at the Fair.
Dr. O’Connor had indicated during our conversation that she was aware of the presence of these emus in West Gloucester and also that she was considering expanding the quarantine to include those animals. until the disease in Essex had run its course and we had experienced a hard frost. I was confident that Dr. O’Connor would not approve of these animals being displayed at the Fair.
At 5:00 p.m., I was able to contact Fish & Wildlife through the Environmental Police and explained the situation. They had the animals removed from the Fair. While the threat was probably minimal, it would have been foolish to subject other animals at the Fair or thousands of human fairgoers to even a slightly elevated level of risk. Good communication is the cornerstone of an effective relationship between DEP/DPH and the local board of health!
Profile: Joan Semedo Dr. Ed.
MAHB MEMBERS come from many walks of life. The purpose of this page is to celebrate both their individuality and the common bonds of community service.
Joan Semedo serves on the Brockton Board of Health and teaches art & art history in the Boston public schools from kindergarten to college level. She is widowed, and has three daughters and two granddaughters.
Community Profile: The City of Brockton is a major urban community 20 miles south of Boston with a rich industrial history. Brockton was the shoe manufacturing center of the region from the late 18th century through the 1950’s. In the Civil War, it was claimed that half of the Union Army wore boots made in Brockton and at the height of the shoe industry in 1929, more than 30,000 people were employed by shoe manufacturers in a city which dominated the world footwear market until after World War II.
Total Area: 21.60 sq. miles Population: 92,788 Density: 4,322 per sq. mile Median Household Income $31,712; Per Capita Income $13,455
Education: University of Mass BA, MA; University of Mass Amherst Ph.D education
Interesting Life Experiences
“traveling with my church group into remote areas of Haiti, and throughout the West Indies, observing programs treating malnutrition, childbirth clinics and World Health Organization clinics; Visiting France & Switzerland to meet other artists and view their work.
Another interesting experience occurred when one of my second grade students won a national contest for health nutrition with the slogan Fruit gives you energy – not Candy- We were flown to Washington. D.C. . to visit the Dept of Agriculture and Health & Human Services.”
In 1994, Dr Semeda participated in a DPH television campaign “Good News about Breast Cancer” – promoting the idea that uninsured women can get a free mamogram, and was also a poster girl for US Dept of Health & Human Services encouraging women to get a mamogram .
Chosen to be an Artist in Embassy by US State Department – which means that your artwork is displayed in several embassies, such as New Zealand and Honduras. One painting is entitled Le Marche depicting Haitian village women engaging in trade using credit cards under a special program to reduce their vulnerability to theft.
Hobbies, interests: Skiing, horseback riding, cooking & canning, square dancing, and writing educational materials on art and art history.
Favorite books movies & art: favorite book – a biography of Madame Curie. “I like nostalgic movies with Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall, I’m particularly interested in Winslow Homer and Rodin who taught a number of African/American artists in their studios and strongly influenced African American art.”
Why did you decide to serve on the Board of Health?- “I was always interested in science and technology, and this was an opportunity for me to work directly on the health problems confronting our community. I have extensive training in early childhood education.”
What are your board’s most pressing challenges? Brockton’s water shortage, somewhat improved now the old rusted pipes are being replaced. Brockton seems to be attracting garbage disposal companies, … the trucks wanted to use residential neighborhoods, endangering children, and the neighborhood.
What Do You feel are most important community health contributions made by your board? “We’ve done some very positive things in tobacco control. For example, we stopped a large supermarket from stocking barrels full of cigarettes which kids were stealing. They were replaced with barrels of fruit. We also arranged for locks to be put on cigarette machines and after the state Attorney conducted compliance checks, store owners were fined for selling to minors, which discouraged that activity.
“After a complaint about body piercing, we investigated and banned this activity.”
Words of advice, comments, thoughts about the role of board of health?
“The boards need to focus on inspections to prevent problems like restaurants keeping back doors open in the summer time allowing rodents & flies to enter. Many places are not in compliance For example, we only have one public health nurse, and when contaminated fish was served at a dinner party, sending people to the hospital, it was hard to do adequate timely follow up. We need to educate the public about health risks, for example, during heavy rains I saw children swimming in the flooded areas, with parents unaware of the health risks of septic system overflows. Boards need to focus on health of children, especially with new concerns about diseases that were once thought to be conquered”.
Consumer Confidence Reports are Coming!
- by: Jane Ceraso and Maria Osorio DEP/Drinking Water ProgramDuring the past decade, there has been a new focus on consumer right-to-know as a component of many environmental programs and regulations. Increasingly, the public is being provided with information on which to base their own decisions about what they eat, the air they breathe, and yes, the water they drink! The 1996 SDWA Amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act include several consumer right-to-know provisions. The provision with the most impact on community public water supplies is the Consumer Confidence Rule.
The Consumer Confidence Report (CCR) Rule was promulgated on August 19, 1998. The CCR requires all community public water suppliers to produce for their customers an annual report on local drinking water quality. This report will allow consumers to become more educated about their water supply and make practical decisions about their health and water consumption.
Although water suppliers will have flexibility in designing their CCRs, each report must provide customers with at least the following information about their drinking water:
- Source(s) of the drinking water
- Levels of any contaminant found, as well as EPA’s health based standard (maximum contamination level (MCL)) for comparison
- Definitions for MCL, MCLG, treatment technique and action level
- Potential health effects of any contaminant detected in violation of an EPA health standard, the length of the violation, the likely sources of that contaminant in the water supply, and corrective measures taken to address the violation
- The water supply’s compliance with other drinking water regulations, such as monitoring and reporting for compliance data, record keeping, filtration and disinfection, and lead and copper control requirements
- How to get a copy of the water supply’s source water assessment, if completed
- A statement that the presence of contaminants in drinking water does not necessarily indicate that the water poses a health risk
- An educational statement for vulnerable populations about avoiding Cryptosporidium
- Educational information on nitrate and arsenic in areas where these contaminants are detected above 50% of EPA’s standards
- Educational information on lead in areas where these contaminants are detected above the action level in more than 5 percent, but fewer than 10 percent of the homes sampled
- Phone numbers for additional sources of infor mation, including the water supplier and EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Hotline (800-426-4791).
- Community water suppliers (CWS) will all be required to make their CCRs widely available to the public, and the method for distribution will be linked to the population that system serves:
- CWS serving 100,000 or more must make the report available on an Internet site
- CWS serving fewer than 10,000 but more than 500 persons must publish the report in at least one local newspaper
- CWS serving 500 or fewer persons must, on an annual basis, provide a notice that the report is available upon request.
The first CCRs will be delivered to the public by October 19, 1999. The Drinking Water Program recognizes that this may generate questions to local boards of health on the quality of drinking water both in public and private water supplies. We plan to compile a directory of information and resources on health effects of drinking water contaminants, useful Internet resources, recommended templates for producing CCRs, and a guide book to conducting consumer outreach and responding to consumer questions. We will also encourage community water suppliers to send a copy of their annual CCR to the local board of health. For general information on the CCR please call or write:
DEP Drinking Water Program
One Winter Street
Boston, MA 02110
Jane Ceraso (617) 574-6855 or Maria Osorio (617) 556-1042 or call the EPA Safe Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791.