Environmental Safety
and Health


A healthy community requires clean and safe air, water, food, and facilities such as housing, work places, schools, and child care centers. Disease, disability, injury, and death may result from an unsafe environment. Environmental health programs are aimed at minimizing the public's exposure to environmental hazards in order to prevent disease and injury. These programs involve preventing the presence or production of adverse health factors and preventing or minimizing human exposure to these factors. These environmental health programs are the true population-based services of public health.

The regulation of industrial contaminants, chemical pollutants, mining and manufacturing waste, and other solid waste generally falls outside the purview of the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health (WVBPH). The balance of this section on environmental health will address the issues identified in Objectives 11.1 and 11.2, i.e., ensuring the quality of the state's drinking water and safety from the adverse effects of radon gas.

The Drinking Water Program, located within the Office of Environmental Services,









11.1 Increase to 80% proportion of residents who receive safe drinking water





11.2 Increase to 40% proportion of homes tested for radon




WVBPH, is responsible for assuring safe drinking water to West Virginia residents. The program obtained primacy to implement the federal regulations in 1977. Primacy states receive federal funding for program operation and must have drinking water regulations that are at least as stringent as the federal requirements. The program provides surveillance and technical assistance (siting, design, construction, treatment, operation, distribution, and compliance) to approximately 2,500 public drinking water supply systems in West Virginia. Of these, approximately 700 are community systems, 332 are non-transient, non-community systems, and the remaining 968 are transient, non-community systems.

The Radon Program, also located within the Office of Environmental Health Services, WVBPH, is addressing the problem of radon, an odorless, colorless, and tasteless gas produced by the radioactive decay of uranium, which is found nearly everywhere in the earth's crust. Radon can seep into buildings and, if trapped indoors, can cause lung cancer through its accumulated decay products. It is estimated that between 5,000 and 20,000 lung cancers in the United States can be attributed to radon. Local health departments continue to be active in encouraging the use and distribution of radon test kits.

With support from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the state Drinking Water and Radon programs are striving to meet the West Virginia Healthy People 2000 objectives.

The Objectives

OBJECTIVE 11.1 Increase to at least 80% the proportion of residents who receive a supply of drinking water that meets safe drinking water standards established by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

UPDATE As of 1996, approximately 70% of the West Virginia population was served by an approved water supply system. Public water systems serve approximately 1.25 million state residents, plus thousands of visitors each year. The majority of all systems in West Virginia are small; the thirty largest water systems in the state serve only 53% of all state residents. The federal "Safe Drinking Water Act" was reauthorized in 1996, providing for the creation of a state drinking water Revolving Loan Fund Program for water system construction.

OBJECTIVE 11.2 Increase to 40% the proportion of homes in which homeowners/occupants have tested for radon concentrations and which have either been found to pose minimal risk or have been modified to reduce risk to health.

UPDATE Data obtained from the state/EPA survey indicate that of the 15,832 homes screened in the state, 5,001 or 31.6% exceeded EPA's target limit of 4.0 picocuries per liter (pCi/l). The school-based radon testing program has been conducted in all 55 counties, resulting in 19,058 rooms in 1,080 schools being tested. Of these, 3,155 rooms in 755 schools exceeded 4.0pCi/l. To date, reductions to less than 4.0 pCi/l have been made in 1,862 rooms in 416 schools.

Meeting the Objectives

Health Promotion Channels
for Achieving Objectives:

Public Health Programs
Health Care System
Higher Education

The Drinking Water and Radon programs are the designated lead entities in addressing Objectives 11.1-11.2. Both programs are working with other agencies and organizations to reach West Virginia's population with information about these issues, using the health promotion channels to the communities listed in the box above and discussed in greater detail in the Introduction.

In dealing with the problem of small systems in the state, the Drinking Water Program will continue to advocate consolidation where possible to void the proliferation of such systems, which do not have sufficient customer base to generate revenues to support the necessary regulatory requirements. State staff plan to continue to provide the best technical assistance and regulatory control possible for the next several years until such time that staff can be expanded to more adequately handle the job. In order to document the need for additional resources for community water systems, the general public, public officials, and legislative leaders must receive targeted health education about safe drinking water and the essential needs in West Virginia.

The Environmental Engineering Division, which houses the Drinking Water Program (in the Office of Environmental Health Services), works closely with other state agencies and associations in implementing programs related to ensuring the quality of drinking water. The West Virginia Rural Water Association has sponsored numerous programs providing education to operators. The association also has a circuit rider who visits water treatment plants to assist with operational problems. The Environmental Engineering Division closely cooperates with and coordinates with groups in providing technical and educational assistance. The West Virginia Drinking Water Policy Advisory Committee published a report dealing with the problem, "The West Virginia Drinking Water Program at a Turning Point," in December 1990. The committee presented its report to the Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Resources and has requested that the Environmental Engineering Division report quarterly on the progress toward its recommendations. The Environmental Engineering Division's staff actively participates in the state's Infrastructure Council and its committees.

In an effort to educate the public about the dangers of radon, the WVBPH is working with the WV American Lung Association, WVU Extension Service, WV Broadcasters Association, and local health departments to target awareness through the media, family practitioners and pediatricians, local government officials, school board members, parent/teachers organizations, and other civic groups.

Environmental Safety and Health -Meeting the Objectives

Lead Entity:
Office of Environmental Health Services

Plan Coordinator:
Joe Schock, MPH, PE, Office Director
Office of Environmental Health Services
WV Bureau for Public Health
(304) 558-2981/FAX (304) 558-1291

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