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Challenges enough for a century.

Jim Lovell, commander of Apollo 13, once commented, "I never dreamed I'd get to do something like this." I can think of nothing to add to that sentence that would more adequately describe my feelings at the beginning of my voyage as president of NEHA. To be allowed to take the helm of the premier organization representing the professional practice of environmental health is an honor that I did not envision when I attended my first Annual Educational Conference (AEC) in Atlanta during the summer of 1973.

I recall attending the 1973 AEC as an environmental health graduate student - and my anxiety as I met many of the people I considered "legends." Through attendance at this and subsequent AECs, I learned that these legends were real people, people whom I could, would, and, in many cases, still do call upon for advice and counsel. Many advances in technology have been made since 1973; nevertheless as I looked back through a 1973 Journal of Environmental Health, I noted that many of the issues NEHA addresses today were issues then, too. NEHA's review of the U.S. Public Health Service Food Service Sanitation Manual was discussed in President Charles Gillham's March/April column, as was publication of a new NEHA newsletter. The Journal also contained announcements that the Accreditation Council would be reorganized to work with two-year and graduate environmental health programs, that negative impacts were anticipated with cuts in federal spending, and that the 1973 "Miss Environmental Health" had been selected. Well, now that I consider it, some issues may have changed.

NEHA, through the dedicated and planned efforts of its members, affiliates, board of directors, and staff, has evolved into a dynamic organization that addresses technological and sociological issues affecting the practice of environmental health in numerous venues. In the future, no doubt, NEHA will be challenged to provide information so that our profession can make decisions. Thus, when the Food and Drug Administration's (FDA's) seemingly innocuous Food Code appeared, NEHA was asked to take a strong stand for its national implementation. That debate continues as food safety issues grow more complex. To answer the questions of members, NEHA will need to form opinions about such questions as "Should states mandate certification?" "Should NEHA endorse specific certification courses?" and "Should instructors have certain minimum qualifications?" These questions will be simple compared with questions about the irradiation of meat and the definition of limitations for the use of sampling equipment.

The lack of standards pertaining to housing and indoor air quality (IAQ) will continue to present challenges to NEHA in the next millennium. During my four years working with the University of Kentucky's radon and IAQ program, discussions with environmental health specialists most often concerned the lack of IAQ laws and regulations that would address housing and institutional IAQ complaints. Answers have not mystically appeared. Also, environmental health concerns are certain to arise as a result of methods used to improve energy efficiency, techniques developed to increase construction efficiency among builders, and chemically formulated compounds developed to replace natural products. A challenge to NEHA will be to ascertain which parties are involved and make them part of the solution.

As we enter the 21st century, acts of terrorism may provide the ultimate and most insidious challenge that NEHA and environmental health specialists have ever faced. Preparing for and reacting to such acts of stupidity will certainly challenge NEHA to gain understanding not only of the immediate threats to life, but also of secondary threats that may tax water systems, food supplies, medical response, hazardous waste disposal, transportation systems, and medical care facilities. Terrorism, whether chemical or biological, will continue to force evaluation not only of the results of the terrorist actions themselves, but also the results of the responses. As a result of terrorism such as was experienced in Littleton, Colorado, in April 1999, we already are beginning to see reactions that could become environmental health issues. What will be the long-term effects of increased security, and how will those measures affect environmental health inspections and regulation? Will terrorism eventually involve random acts that result in contamination of food? Of water?

The new millennium will certainly provide challenges in environmental health, which means challenges to NEHA. The need to develop new credentials and to improve the quality of existing credentials will continue. Decisions will have to be made about the training of new environmental health specialists. There will be new issues for which decisions will be incumbent. It is an exciting time to be involved - a time for all NEHA members to become involved.

During the coming year, I challenge each of you to divest yourself of the burden of repressing your opinions, and to refrain from reserving your participatory energy for another time. I challenge you to invest your knowledge and skills to work through NEHA to help NEHA enhance you, its member, and improve your status as a professional practitioner of environmental health. NEHA is your organization. Just let me know how you want to participate - after all, there are enough jobs for all of us.

Befitting the location of the 1999 AEC in Nashville, Tennessee, the Country Music Capital of the World, I will leave you for now with the words of Cousin Minnie Pearl: "I'm just soooo proud to be here."
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Title Annotation:National Environmental Health Association
Author:Coleman, Gary
Publication:Journal of Environmental Health
Date:Jul 1, 1999
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