Monthly Archives: October 2018

Veda: An Informational Interview with a Health and Environmental Investigator

An Informational Interview with a Health and Environmental Investigator

By Veda.

While interning at Public Health – Seattle & King County, I was fortunate enough to shadow professionals in Environmental Health Services. One of these individuals was Kyla, a Health and Environmental Investigator who mainly focused on complaints regarding on-site sewage systems in King County.

Inspection Process

Kyla explained that her process for inspecting a septic tank begins with someone complaining of an odor, sewage above a drain field, or a report from the tank’s maintainer that the system is not working properly. She also communicates with the complainant about the issue. For our first inspection, the complainant was able to take pictures of their neighbor’s property to help pinpoint where the odor and waste appeared to be coming from when she arrived. In addition to bringing the complaint notes and maintainer records, before heading out to the site Kyla also prepares a diagram that includes the septic tank, the property, and structures on the property. Upon arrival, she will try to find the homeowner or a tenant to get permission to enter their property and inspect the tank and drain field. If no one is home, viewing the tank and field can also be done from nearby public land, or by asking the neighboring complainant for permission to view the septic system from their property. During the inspection, she documents odors, the status of the tank, and any effluent seen by taking notes and pictures. If there is possible effluent on the drainage field, green fluorescent dye can be flushed down the toilet and can be seen in the drainage field a few days later to know for sure.

Likes and Dislikes

The most rewarding part of Kyla’s job is being able to assist homeowners and residents with solving their septic tank issues, which can become unpleasant for the residents and people nearby if left untreated. If there is effluent on the drainage field, an unappealing aspect can be the smell and having to walk in the sewage if the case is severe enough. Since the majority of inspections take place on rural land, a downside is that entering large and isolated properties can pose a risk to safety, so site visits are done in pairs. However, visiting rural land for site inspections gives Kyla the opportunity to explore King County and visit forests and farmland, which is a unique aspect of her job.

Future

Septic tank records (otherwise known as “as builts”) are filed on paper or film. While the notes that Kyla makes at the inspection sites get transferred into electronic form, she explained that Public Health plans to store the diagrams electronically in the future as well.

Meet Our Interns: Veda T.

How I Got my Summer Internship

By Veda T.

I began my internship search during fall quarter of the ENV H 480 internship class. While a lot of the internships I found were through searching Google or Indeed, what helped the most was the Undergraduate Internships page on the DEOHS portal website. Accessing this page allowed me to become familiar with the different types of internships in environmental health, and prioritize which ones I wanted to apply to based on their location and deadline. When it came time to apply and fill out the applications, I was surprised by how tedious and repetitive some aspects were. I recommend starting this process as early as possible, and to double check that your answers are appropriately geared for the company or organization you are applying to.

After applying to several internships, the one that I interviewed for first and eventually got was with the Environmental Health Research Experience Program (EHREP). To help prepare for the interview, I spoke with Hayley, the Internship Manager, about what to expect during the interview and to learn a little more about the internship. An integral aspect to getting the internship was expressing my passion for photography when asked if I considered myself creative, and providing some video examples I had made for school projects when I heard that they were looking for someone to produce video content on wildfire smoke.

Screenshot of the smoke video Veda made for PHSKC

When I got my internship, I was placed with Public Health – Seattle & King County, where I produced smoke and heat safety videos in the Preparedness Section. In addition, I was able to shadow environmental health professionals once a week with Environmental Health Services and I also made smoke safety videos for the Washington State Department of Health as well.

Meet Our Interns: Eileen

About My Internship

By Eileen T.

My internship is with an organization called El Centro de la Raza, located in Beacon Hill. During my internship, I will spend the majority of time in Beacon Hill conducting field work and attending monthly meetings with the Beacon Hill Noise Team. I will also be in the UW Environmental Health department when I have weekly meetings with my supervisor.

I have many mentors for this internship. My primary supervisor is Dr. Seto, a professor at the UW, who teaches classes in the DEOHS. During my weekly meetings with Dr. Seto and my partner intern, he assigns us work and checks on the progress on our final project for the internship. Dr. Lorenzana is another mentor who is an adjunct professor at the university. We meet with her during monthly team meetings and she is in charge of sending our checks to us every two weeks. Joe Albert is a veteran volunteer of the project who taught my partner and I how to deploy monitors, enter data into the shared Google drive, and schedule set ups with the residents.

Phan and Eileen in Dr. Seto’s lab

The Beacon Hill Noise project’s goal is to minimize noise pollution in the Beacon Hill area from the planes flying from the SeaTac airport. Many residents have volunteered to host monitors that will capture noise made from the planes. My job as an intern is to schedule and deploy monitors at residents’ homes and analyze data. In addition, it is also my job to compile the data for each resident and send them a summarized report of the data collected from their home. I will also work on an individual project focusing on traffic noise data in the area.

I am most excited to learn about a community-led, grass-roots project and more about environmental justice problems. I was unaware of the noise pollution problem in the Beacon Hill area and it will be interesting to hear how it affects the residents. I think this project is interesting because the community is very involved in attending meetings and having input into the data collection. I would say I am most nervous about if the data collected will be sufficient for real change to occur.

I discovered this internship after I received an email from the department advertising about the opportunity. I sent in my resume and cover letter then was asked to meet for an interview. After I interviewed with Dr. Seto and learned more about the internship, I received an offer for the position.

Rico G.: About My Internship at Clallam County Health and Human Services

About My Internship at Clallam County Health and Human Services

By Rico G.

Since I started interning at Clallam County Health and Human Services, I’ve had the chance to work with my colleagues from nearly every department in the environmental health division. Some fun things I’ve done include going out to the water to collect shellfish, taking water samples on the Olympic Game Farm, and participating in an all-day state partnering session.

Collecting shellfish was great because I was able to spend time out in the sun and on the beach. This is where I fell in love with Port Angeles. The work we do on the beach helps to maintain world-renowned recreational and commercial shellfishing opportunities. This in turn helps boost the local economy through license sales and allows people to spend time by the water and experience what the Pacific Northwest has to offer.

Taking water samples at the Olympic Game Farm was great because I got to see and work around the many species of animals they harbor. One of our sample locations was within 10 feet of a grizzly bear enclosure, so the only thing standing between the sample crew and the grizzlies was a 5-foot wire fence and our guide. The work we do around the creeks of the farm also plays an important role in regards to shellfishing. I attended the Clean Water Workgroup Meeting recently and heard that some of the most productive waters in our local bay that have been historically off limits might be re-opened for harvesting in the near future! It’s great to know the work we are doing is making a positive impact.

The state partnering session was a very valuable experience because I learned about specific processes to get work done in the county. People attended from the Washington State Department of Health, Clallam County policy makers, nation-wide building contractors, engineers, and other technicians to collaborate on streamlining the process to renovate the William Shore Aquatic Center. A partnering specialist was hired to facilitate the session, and she mentioned that meetings like this are rather new and uncommon, so the experience was cutting-edge in terms of collaboration. As an intern, I also appreciated the lunch!

My proudest accomplishment during my internship was completely revamping the Clallam County shellfish page. It took many hours of study and collaboration with others in the county and throughout the state to produce the most comprehensive, accurate, and user-friendly web experience that I could.

I’ve also worked on a project to assess the wildfire smoke health-risk communication needs of Clallam County organizations serving vulnerable populations.

In order to make this an awesome experience, I needed my knowledge from UW, as well as a willingness to try new things and push to find relevant environmental health activities.

During my internship, I received support from many people: it came from my housing hosts who were very accommodating to all my living needs; from my Environmental Health Director and EHREP program coordinators who officially instated me as an intern; from my UW Career Services and Internship Manager who provided guidance to all UW EH interns on how to make the most out of the experience; from the wonderful, intelligent, talented staff I worked alongside; from the partners of Clallam County including the locals, the state, and our national funding partners whose support makes our work possible; and my family who helps to support my housing in Seattle.

Ana S.: My Summer Project In Data Collection

My Summer Project In Data Collection

By Ana S.

During my time here in El Paso County, I had the opportunity to see and experience many different parts of public health. While I have been working on designated tasks related to rabies and vector borne disease prevention, I have also been able to shadow other environmental health specialists to get a better sense of what a typical day looks like for an employee in the Environmental Health Division. Being a fresh set of eyes during these shadowing experiences is what eventually led me to developing my second project for the summer.

El Paso County has over 2700 Retail Food Establishments (RFEs), each one with their own set of food safety challenges. For restaurants specializing in international cuisine, many of their challenges relate to the language and cultural barriers that operators experience when interacting with inspectors. Past inspection reports suggest that many of these restaurants have a much higher number of critical violations than other facilities. Many of the health specialists I spoke to explained that these violations were usually related to the resistant behavior of  restaurant operators, which has made it very difficult for specialists to collaborate and work toward developing safer facilities. While I had experienced this resistance first-hand, I also noticed another trend that I thought may explain the problem further. At many of these food facilities, operators and employees spoke little to no English. This barrier can pose quite a challenge for the health department, as they have no health specialists on staff who speak any language other than English or Spanish. Additionally, while Hispanic and English speaking facilities can receive educational materials in their native language, health specialists have no resources available for any other languages. This often leaves multicultural restaurants in the dark when it comes to maintaining a safe and healthy work environment. Noticing this trend made me wonder if the lack of compliance was caused, not by a lack of willingness to comply, but rather by a lack of understanding on how to comply.

That’s when I started developing my project, which is working to provide resources and information to employees in their native language in the hope of giving them a better understanding of how to run a safer restaurant. For my remaining time here, I’ve been working with the director of the food program, as well as a population health epidemiologist, to complete a number of tasks that will help put this plan into effect. First, I’ve been conducting a survey, which was recently sent to all 2700 RFEs in El Paso County, asking what languages are commonly spoken between employees and owners. Second, I’ve been collecting and developing a set of documents which can be given to all health inspectors to be used when working with non-English speaking employees. Finally, I’ve been developing a color-coded map, which indicates where restaurants are located and what languages are spoken at each restaurant, so inspectors can prepare to bring the correct materials prior to the inspection. All the while, I’ve been working with health specialists to educate them on how to be more culturally aware, in order to produce a more collaborative environment during inspections.

This project has required a lot of time, collaboration, and problem solving skills to produce effective results. It’s also been a project that’s required me to utilize my background in statistics and epidemiological practices. In the end, this project will hopefully be the first of many investigations into how we can develop better cross-cultural communication strategies as a governmental agency. I’m really glad that I could be a part of the beginning of this process!