Author Archives: deohsjob

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!

Nikki N: 3 Ways To Ensure a Successful Internship

3 Ways To Ensure a Successful Internship

By Nikki N.

As my internship ends, I have reflected on the successes and challenges of my internship. Over the summer, I worked to encourage nail salons to join the Healthy Nail Salon Recognition Program and to educate workers and consumers on the occupational hazards in the workplace. After working with both the Occupational Health Internship Program (OHIP) and the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative, I realized that there were 3 main factors that made my internship a success:

  • Self-advocacy: When I first started, my scope of work was limited to outreaching to nail salons and to the public were able to find content gaps in educational materials for nail salon workers and consumers and address these gaps. Because we took the initiative to advocate for ourselves, my partner and I were able to create a compliance worksheet, information flyer, health and safety factsheet, and compile 12 profiles of nail salon workers and their children to publish on social media.
  • Planning in advance andself-reflection :  When I first thought about the 9 week internship, I didn’t think it would be enough time to make an impact; however, those 9 (or 10) weeks can make a huge difference to a community or an organization. Being effective in a short time period requires thinking about potential challenges, coming up with a plan and sticking to it. For example, my partner and I anticipated it would be a challenge to get people to think of us as professionals because of our ages. We had to anticipate this challenge and make plans for how to address this (showing our knowledge and being very kind). It was also important for me to self-reflect on my internship to think about what I liked and disliked about my experience; I liked the personalized connections I made with the workers but I could not see myself doing educational work for long periods of time. This made me realize I wanted to impact a few people deeply and to hear people’s stories, which solidified my desire to enter the medical field. Without self-reflecting, I might not have come to this realization about my career path.
  • Asking for help when necessary: Although it may not be easy, supervisors are there to help provide you with guidance. It is from asking advisors that my partner and I were able to come up with some of our projects ideas and to obtain incentives that we would use to motivate consumers to listen to us. It was important for me (and for others) to realize that the internship is a rare opportunity to learn about something cool in the field of Environmental and Occupational Health. I discovered that we must be in control of our learning even if we need to ask for help along the way. When there is a potential issue, it is always best to address it early (like my partner and I did when we wanted work so we can have the best experience possible.

Meet Our Interns: Nikki N.

Getting Ready for my OHIP Internship

By Nikki N.

I am glad to have the opportunity to do my internship through the Occupational Health Internship program. I got my internship through stalking the DEOHS career page, finding the opportunity, and speaking about my passion to occupational health through the essay questions, cover letter, resume, and letter of recommendation.

The Occupational Health Internship program is a national internship funded by NIOSH (National Institute of Occupational Safety and Health) with the intention of training students about occupational health in hopes of them being the future leaders in the field. The program matches 20-28 students with prechosen projects with different union organizations and academic institutions in different urban cities like Chicago, LA, and New York.  Some examples for this year includes looking at Labor and Workplace conditions of Tesla workers (San Francisco), documenting hazards and the injury experiences of grocery workers (Chicago), and hazard characterization in the IBT-represented Department of Energy Sites (DC Area).  My preferences in toxicology and my Vietnamese background made me a good fit to work in the Los Angeles Site with the UCLA and the California Healthy Nail Salon Collaborative partnership. At this site, I will provide outreach for healthy nail salons around Santa Monica (where the workers are 50-80% Vietnamese) so that both workers and consumers will can enjoy a safer environment.

Because Environmental/Occupational health is interdisciplinary, a three day orientation is held to get everyone on track. Here we get information such as background on our project, our workplan, and other details related to the program. Shown here is just a few of the documents I’ve needed in preparation for the internship.

I’m excited to work with an amazing partner from UCLA on the “Pretty Shouldn’t Stink: supporting the health of nail salon workers in California.” My focus will be to recruit nail salons to join the Santa Monica Healthy Nail Salon Recognition Program for less toxic nail salons (salons with ventilation/glove use and without some of the more toxic chemicals in their products. I will also conduct outreach and trainings to nail salon owners and workers on health, safety, and their worker’s rights. I will ultimately develop a factsheet to educate nail salon workers on their rights. With rising national concerns over health hazards in nail salons, I am especially excited to hear the workers’ perspectives and stories about working in nail salons. I look forward to learning about how potential health hazards may have affected these workers, and providing them with some knowledge on safer practices in their salons.  However, I am also nervous for the same reason. In some cases, change has not happened for a reason, and I want to make sure I am providing this information in a way where the workers will want to receive it. Regardless, it will be an amazing opportunity to interact with workers, see first-hand the hazards of the workplace, and work towards education and mitigation.

Sarah H: How I Got My EHS Internship

How I Got My EHS Internship

By Sarah H.

Over winter break, my mom asked me how my search was going for a summer internship.  I half nervously told her I had not yet begun looking and then received a look of disappointment.  Going into my search for a summer internship I knew I wanted two things: one, I wanted to live at home (in Los Angeles), and two I wanted my internship to be Environmental Health related.  When I began to look this was hard because most University of Washington internship programs were Seattle-based, and the internships I found outside of Seattle seemed to be PR or marketing-related.  I became anxious because I did not think I was going to be able to find anything.  I thought this until I came across Beautycounter on Indeed.com (a job searching website). The job posting said this was an Environmental Health and Safety internship located in Santa Monica, which hit both my goals.   When I found this opportunity, I told my friend how I was applying at a makeup company I had never heard of.  My friend told me that she knew a consultant who worked for that company, and she gave me her number.  I next texted the girl asking about the company, and she gave me her manager’s email. I emailed the consultant’s manager, who gave me the email of the director in charge of hiring. I next emailed the director with a letter informing him of my interest. I also included my resume in the email.  After a few emails, I was offered an over the phone interview with the woman in charge of the Environmental Health and Safety DepartmentThe phone interview went smoothly.  I told her what my major was, where I grew up, and about my Environmental Health major at UW.  It was a very casual conversation, but I was also well prepared and had questions to ask her about the company to show interest.  After this phone call, I emailed her thanking her for her time, and received a note from Travis’s assistant saying that the woman was very impressed with me.  I was told I would hear back in a week.  After only a couple of days, I received a phone call that I got the internship! I was ecstatic!

What I learned from this experience is the importance of networking.  It was luck that I found the consultant, but because of her, I was able to email the director and stand out compared to someone who did not have that connection.  Also, I learned the importance of following up and being professional.  When I finished the phone interview, I made sure to email the interviewer, the director, and his assistant, to thank them all independently for their help and consideration.  These extra steps are something that I will continue to use whenever applying for internships or jobs in the future.

Meet Our Interns: Sarah H.

First impressions at My EHS Internship

By Sarah H.

On my first day of work, I arrived at my internship thirty minutes early.  I did not know what the traffic would be like (LA traffic is unpredictable), and I knew that the parking garage was about a ten-minute walk from the building.  The night before, I tried on different outfits, making sure that I looked appropriately dressed in business casual.  Once I arrived at the building, I waited in the lobby because I was told all the new interns were going to meet there for a welcome day.  When everyone arrived, we went into a conference room, had a meet and greet, and were shown a “What is Beautycounter?” presentation.  We went around the room saying where we were from, our major, and what internship we had.  Next, we were shown the presentation to learn about Beautycounter and its mission. Beautycounter’s goal is “to get safer products into the hands of everyone.”  I did not know this before, but many cosmetic ingredients are not regulated.  Products can contain very harmful ingredients that can cause health issues.  In the EU, they have over 1,400 banned chemicals, but in the US, there are only thirty!  Beautycounter is not only making safer products, but also fighting to ban more harmful chemicals.  This presentation was very moving to me, because Beautycounter I related to the company’s goals. They identified a problem with the beauty industry, and not only are they working to make safer products, but they are taking the next steps of lobbying in D.C. against these toxic chemicals.   After this presentation, I met my manager and the rest of the Environmental Health and Safety Team.  The EHS team works closely with Product Development as well as Project Management, so I met all the team members.  Everyone was very warm and welcoming.  The three departments all went for lunch together to welcome the new interns, which also gave me a chance to meet the interns I will work closely with this summer.  My first impression of Beautycounter made me excited for my summer to begin.  I was looking forward to working with everyone and being a part of a positive change in the beauty industry.

Meet Our Interns: Nhi N.

My Internship with the Washington Department of Health at Public Health Laboratories

By Nhi N.

This summer, I am doing my internship at the Washington Department of Health Public Health Laboratories (PHL) in Shoreline. I found out about this internship through my department’s career services, and I interviewed with the DOH twice before getting the offer for the position.  I will work as a Lab Assistant 1 in the Office of Environmental Laboratory Sciences (ELS). The Office of Environmental Laboratory Sciences is divided into two main sections: Environmental Microbiology and Environmental Chemistry and Radiation. The laboratory units in the ELS provide a wide variety of testing of environmental samples and clinical specimens and are certified by several federal programs that include the EPA, FDA, College of American Pathologists, and the Nuclear Regulatory Commission.  

This office is comprised of six units, and for my internship, I will work in the Biotoxin, Shellfish Chemistry & Water Laboratory Units, but I will mainly be in the Shellfish Biotoxins program. My internship will revolve around the process of sample preparation and analysis of different types of shellfish sent to the laboratory from many different regions in Washington. I will help and learn from other chemists in my program while we test shellfish for the presence of three main naturally occur marine biotoxins: Amnesic Shellfish Poisoning (ASP) from Domoic Acid, Diarrheic Shellfish Poisoning (DSP) from Okadiac Acid, and Paralytic Shellfish Poisoning (PSP) from Saxitoxins. I will also work under the supervision of a chemist for the Shellfish Chemistry for Metals (Arsenic) project.

I am most excited about seeing how what I learned in school will be applied to a real work environment setting. I look forward to learning more about environmental sampling from this internship and exploring more about the public health side of this field. Even though I took a good number of classes at the UW that include lab work, I was still a little nervous about being in charge of a station in the lab. I will have to make sure that the all the procedures that I perform are precise and correct to ensure that the samples are prepared correctly for analysis. However, on the first day that I worked in the lab, everyone was really nice and supportive. After meeting and being trained by my colleagues, I am now more comfortable with the work that I do in the lab, and excited to learn more over the summer.