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P.R./USVI to benefit from $4.7M in National Environmental Health Association projects

The National Environmental Health Association announced it is launching a series of post-hurricane projects in the U.S. Virgin Islands, Puerto Rico and parts of the U.S. mainland intended to improve public health, child care and building safety.

The two-year, $4.7 million agreement directs NEHA to conduct its work in jurisdictions impacted by the 2017 hurricanes Harvey, Irma and María — notably the USVI and Puerto Rico, but some project work in parts of Louisiana, Texas and Florida.

NEHA is conducting the projects in a cooperative agreement with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR.)

“For more than 80 years, NEHA has set the standard for the environmental and health profession. We are honored to be selected by the CDC and ATSDR to lead these critical projects. We have significant work to increase public health resiliency at the community level and reduce injury, sickness, displacement and other hurricane impacts,” said David T. Dyjack, chief executive officer of NEHA.

The agreement outlines a series of objectives in a variety of areas:

  • Develop and maintain a trained, skilled environmental health workforce, essential for hurricane recovery efforts and ensuring preparedness for future emergencies when contagious disease, vector control, and threats to drinking water and food supplies pose increased public risks after a storm ends;
  • Develop local strategies in the USVI and Puerto Rico to protect children from both harmful post-disaster exposures and child-care displacement, using concepts built on ATSDR’s “Choose Safe Places for Early Care and Education” principles;
  • Establish a baseline for monitoring carbon monoxide-related illness and death and increase awareness of the risk of carbon monoxide poisoning in the USVI; and,
  • Research the feasibility of a tech-based field tool, with feedback and collaboration from local authorities, to collect and assess environmental hazard data supportive of response and recovery activity. Examples include mapping exposed sites (daycare centers, emergency shelters and food establishments), and collecting real-time post-storm health threats, such as chemical leaks, downed power lines or damaged drinking-water pumps.

Both the CDC and ATSDR work with organizations like NEHA to aid in disaster response and emergency preparedness. This partnership recognizes the seriousness of threats to public health that are sometimes slow to appear in storm-ravaged communities but are just as deadly.

“It can really grab the public’s attention when catastrophic storms strike. But public threats, injuries and illness occurs long after the hurricane fades. The list is long, from drowning in flood waters to carbon monoxide poisoning because of running generators, to tainted drinking water,” Dyjack said.

“Through this agreement, NEHA’S goal is to better prepare our communities for when the storm hits, and for the aftermath, when conditions can be just as deadly,” he said.

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