A Healthier Future for West Virginia - Healthy People 2010
WV HP 2010
Federal 2010 Initiative



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8 - Environmental Health

Objectives | References


Many environmental factors have been identified that impact human health in West Virginia. In choosing environmental objectives for the year 2010, the environmental health work group concentrated on eight areas of concern. Of these eight broad areas, childhood lead poisoning was chosen as the highest priority. The blood lead levels of children up to five years of age must be reduced to the lowest possible levels to prevent the consequences of this environmental contaminant.

The citizens of West Virginia must also be provided with safe drinking water. Directly or indirectly, four of the 14 objectives address safe drinking water needs. Of the 1.8 million citizens of West Virginia, 1.3 million are currently served by public water. Unfortunately, all of these public water supplies do not meet the current water quality standards. It has been estimated that $868 million will be needed within the next five years to bring these public water systems into compliance and to provide new or extended services to the state's citizens. An additional $2 billion is needed to address wastewater problems, which only compound the state's water quality problems. Discharge from intensive livestock production areas is causing great concern. The increase of livestock production in West Virginia's Eastern Panhandle has a potential for impacting water quality there.

Indoor air quality is associated with three of the 2010 objectives. Radon gas, which is undetectable without specific tests, has been linked to lung cancer in nonsmokers. Only 3% of West Virginia homes have been tested for radon gas to date. Testing of many more homes must be accomplished within the next 10 years so that homeowners and their families are protected from radon and its harmful consequences.

Secondhand tobacco smoke exposes the nonsmoker to tobacco's constituents, which are responsible for respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, and lung cancer. The passage of clean indoor air regulations by all counties in West Virginia can provide protection from such exposure.

Preserving the quality of the air we breathe is of great concern. Maintaining or surpassing the national air quality standards is the only way we can guarantee a safe atmosphere to breathe. Many West Virginia residents suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease. It is hard for them to breathe even when the air meets national standards. We must insure that our air remains at the current quality or improves.

Every year several West Virginians are treated or die as a result of carbon monoxide poisoning. We must educate the public concerning carbon monoxide to reduce these deaths and poisonings.

These environmental health issues have been receiving increased scrutiny throughout the past several years. Many agencies from separate segments of state government, environmental groups, and private citizens are involved in the business of protecting the public from environmental hazards. Only through cooperation will goals be achieved.

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The Objectives

OBJECTIVE 8.1. Reduce the number of West Virginia children between the ages of one to five with blood lead levels of 10 g/dL or greater to 0.
(Baseline: an estimated 2,262 in 1999)

Data Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC),National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey (NHANES); West Virginia Bureau for Public Health (WVBPH), Office of Maternal, Child, and Family Health (OMCFH), reportable childhood disease data; WVBPH, Office of Epidemiology and Health Promotion (OEHP), Health Statistics Center (HSC)

Lead poses a serious environmental threat because of its toxic effect on the various body systems. This hazard is greatly magnified in children, especially those aged one to five. At these ages, the child's rapidly developing body systems are more susceptible to the toxic effects produced by an exposure to lead. The prevalence of blood lead levels in the one to five age group has been reduced over the past few years, according to the CDC's National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. The NHANES III survey estimates that 2.2% of all children aged one to five have blood lead levels of 10 g/dL or greater. Using statistics provided by the WVBPH's Health Statistics Center (HSC), an estimated 102,825 children in the state have a potential for exposure, with approximately 2,262 having blood lead levels of 10 g/dL or greater.

OBJECTIVE 8.2. Increase to 50% the number of homes built before 1950 in which testing for lead-based paint has been performed as a means to reducing childhood lead poisoning. (Baseline: 9% of homes tested in 1993)

Data Source: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS), National Health Interview Survey (NHIS); WVBPH, Office of Environmental Health Services (OEHS)

Lead paint found in older housing is believed to be the main source of environmental lead exposure for children in the home. The incidence of high blood lead levels disproportionally affects the lower income families who occupy the older homes, with minority children at high risk. Older homes must be tested to identify sources of lead to mitigate the health hazard. Testing for lead-based paint in these homes will require an increase in manpower. As of 1993, 9% of the homes had been tested.

OBJECTIVE 8.3. Reduce water-related adverse health effects by increasing to at least 95% the proportion of people served by community water systems who receive a supply of drinking water that meets the Safe Drinking Water Act regulations. (Baseline: Of the 1.8 million state residents, 1.3 million were served by public water in 1999, with an estimated 90% operating in full compliance with the Safe Water Drinking Act.)

Data Sources: Existing EPA Potable Water Surveillance System (PWSS)/Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS); WVPBH, Office of Environmental Health Services (OEHS), Division of Environmental Engineering

The 1.8 million residents of West Virginia must have potable drinking water to remain healthy. The Safe Drinking Water Act mandates that all public water systems, whether obtained from ground or surface supplies, must provide potable water to their customers. Approximately 1.3 million West Virginians are currently served by public water systems. Of these, not all are providing water that meets the standards established under the Safe Drinking Water Act. These systems need to be upgraded to the minimum standards to protect the public health. Additional citizens who lack a source of potable water need to gain access to public supplies or attach to new systems to meet their lack of service.

OBJECTIVE 8.4. (Developmental) Reduce the threat to human health and the environment by controlling discharge from intense livestock production operations. Note: Intense livestock production includes raising in a limited space large numbers of cattle (dairy and beef), swine, or birds (chickens, turkeys) for food or food products. (Baseline data available in 2001)

Data Sources: Clean Water Act Reports, Environmental Protection Agency (EPA); U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Intense livestock production has been implicated in the creation of a problem with psyteria in the Eastern Panhandle streams. Control of runoff from these livestock areas will be necessary to maintain the water quality in this area of the state.

OBJECTIVE 8.5. Reduce infectious and parasitic diseases caused by poor water quality by providing overall environmental services such as sewer service, wastewater treatment service, and potable drinking water to an additional 10% of the total population in West Virginia. (Baseline: 72% of West Virginians had adequate sewage disposal systems in 1999.)

Data Sources: Infrastructure Council, West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection (WVDEP) data, sewer construction grants program

Seventy-two percent (72%) of West Virginia residents were served by approved sewage disposal systems in 1999. It has been estimated that it will take $2 billion to make all necessary improvements to serve all state residents. The reduction of infectious and parasitic diseases can be enhanced by increasing the number of citizens who have approved sewage disposal. In addition, wastewater from population areas, industries, and intense livestock production operations are creating a deleterious effect on water use for recreational as well as surface supplies downstream from their discharge. These discharges greatly increase the potential for disease if the effluents are not properly treated.

OBJECTIVE 8.6. Maintain the average number of outbreaks of waterborne disease arising from water intended for drinking to no more than .5 per year
8.6a. Maintain the average number of outbreaks of waterborne disease among people served by community water systems to no more than .25 per year. Note: Includes only outbreaks from infectious agents and chemical poisoning from water intended for drinking. Community water systems are public or investor-owned water systems that serve large or small communities, subdivisions, or trailer parks with at least 15 service connections or 25 year-round residents.
(Baseline: 0 in 1999)

Data Sources: CDC; NCHS; SDWIS

OBJECTIVE 8.7. (Developmental) Maintain an average number of beach closings and water recreational use restrictions due to harmful bacteria at 1 or less.
8.7a. Beach closings
(Baseline data available in 2001)
8.7b. Water recreational use restrictions (Baseline data available in 2001)

Data Sources: EPA,Clean Water Act reports; WVBPH, OEHS, sanitarian monthly reports

OBJECTIVE 8.8. (Developmental) Reduce by 25% the potential human exposure to toxic chemicals by reducing the number of watersheds with contaminant problems. (Baseline data available in 2001)

Data Sources: National Water Quality Monitoring Program; contaminant data in fish, sediment, and water, fish health, or biomarker metrics (U.S. Geologic Survey, Water Resources Division); state fish contamination survey data sets; States and Regional Agency assessment data, WVDEP Tri database.

Watersheds within the state have been contaminated by wastes from industry discharges and waste disposal sites. The chemical industry has in the past disposed of waste in landfills across the area. These disposal sites are now leaking chemicals into the watershed. One of the main concerns for the West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection involves dioxins and furans, long-lived chemicals that have been associated with cancer at extremely low concentrations. The exposure to these chemicals should be minimized. Fish consumption advisories have been issued in the past for the Kanawha River. Anglers have been warned not to eat bottom dwelling fish because these fish bio-accumulate contaminants such as dioxins.

OBJECTIVE 8.9. Increase to at least 40% the proportion of homes in which homeowners/occupants have tested for radon concentrations and that have been found to pose minimal risk or have been modified to reduce risk to health, as a means to reduce the incidence of lung cancer. (Baseline: 3% or 17,000 homes in WV in 1999)

Data Source: WVBPH, OEHS, Radon Program database

Radon gas, a natural decay product of uranium found in most soils, is believed to cause several thousand cases of lung cancer annually in nonsmokers across the nation. This colorless and odorless gas can remain undetected, especially during the heating season. It gains entrance into structures via minute cracks in basements or from wells in the soil under the home. Several areas in West Virginia have been identified as hot spots for radon. With only 3% of the homes in West Virginia tested for radon to date, however, few citizens know if they are at risk for exposure. All residences in the state need be tested to prevent the occupants from exposure to this potential carcinogen.

A recent law makes it mandatory for all laboratories doing radon testing to report to the Radiation, Toxics, and Indoor Air Division of the Office of Environmental Health. This law will greatly increase the data available to this division.

OBJECTIVE 8.10. Reduce the prevalence of respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, and cancer resulting from exposure to tobacco smoke by increasing to 100% the number of counties with clean indoor air regulations. (Baseline: 41 of 55 counties had regulations in 1999)

Data Sources: WVBPH, OEHP, West Virginia Tobacco Prevention Program; Coalition for a Tobacco-Free WV

According to the Coalition for a Tobacco-Free West Virginia, exposure to secondhand smoke in public buildings poses a serious threat to human health. As of 1999, 41 of West Virginia's 55 counties had clean indoor air regulations to protect the nonsmoking public.

OBJECTIVE 8.11. Reduce deaths and nonfatal poisonings from carbon monoxide.
8.11a. Decrease by 15% the number of nonfatal cases of carbon monoxide poisoning in West Virginia.
(Baseline: 35 nonfatal cases in 1997)
8.11b. Decrease by 25% the number of deaths due to unintentional carbon monoxide poisonings in West Virginia. (Baseline: 5 deaths in 1997)

Data Source: National Vital Statistics System (NVSS), CDC; NCHS; Hospital discharge reports; WVBPH, OEHP, HSC

Carbon monoxide is another toxic gas that causes 200 deaths and about 5,000 injuries per year across the United States. The incidence of carbon monoxide poisonings in the home must be reduced to the minimum, if not eliminated.

OBJECTIVE 8.12. Improve the state's health and air quality by reducing emissions.
8.12a. Increase to 10.8 the percentage of trips made by bicycling.
(Baseline: 0.9% in 1995)
8.12b. Increase to 10.8 the percentage of trips made by walking. (Baseline: 5.4% in 1995)
8.12c. Increase to 3.6 the percentage of trips made by transit. (Baseline: 1.8%)
8.12d. Increase by 150% the number of Americans who telecommute. (Baseline data available from the Federal Highway Administration [FHA] in 2000)

Data Sources: Bicycle Federation of America, FHA; National Personal Transportation Survey (NPTS) conducted every 5 years, U.S. Census.

Improving the air quality in West Virginia is a effort to which every citizen can contribute. By becoming less dependant on vehicles for short trips, we can eliminate emissions. Bicycling, walking, and using mass transit systems will all reduce nitrous oxide discharges. Increasing the use of the computer can also help reduce emissions. Telecommuting allows one to work at home instead of driving to a workplace. The incorporation of these ideas can go a long way to improving our air quality.

OBJECTIVE 8.13. Maintain or surpass national air quality standards so that the air will remain safer to breathe for 100% of the people living in all areas of West Virginia. (Baseline: All areas of WV were meeting national Air Quality Standards as of 1999.)

Data Source: WVDEP, Office of Air Quality

All West Virginians must have clean air that meets or exceeds the minimum federal air quality standards. Sources of air pollution must be minimized. Stationary sources must employ technologies to minimize impact on this vital resource. Many state citizens suffer from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and can detect even minute changes in the quality of the air they breathe.

OBJECTIVE 8.14. Reduce environmentally related respiratory and other health effects by maintaining the generation of municipal solid waste to the 1996 level of 4.0 pounds per person per day or less. (Baseline: 4.0 pounds per day in 1996)

Data Sources: EPA; WVDEP, Office of Waste Management; WVDEP Office of Public Information, tonnage reports.

The reduction of solid waste disposed of in our landfills will benefit us all. Not only will we lengthen the life of our landfills but we will reduce energy costs and pollution by requiring fewer trips by the waste collectors. We will also reduce any future need to export waste where it may be incinerated. The average amount of solid waste generated in West Virginia is 4.0 pounds per person per day, below the national average. We need to maintain this level or try to reduce it; more recycling could assist in this area. The challenge, however, is to make recycling affordable. Approximately 45% of the waste (paper, glass, plastics, and metals) currently going into our landfills could be recycled. Recycling saves energy, which reduces the need for additional generation that contributes to air pollution.

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Meeting the Objectives

Health Promotion Channels for Achieving Objectives:

  • Worksites
  • Schools
  • Public Health Programs
  • Networks
  • Health Care System
  • Higher Education

Meeting the environmental objectives in this document will require the cooperation of many agencies, groups, and individuals. The regulation and protection of environmental resources are fragmented between several state agencies and offices within West Virginia. All agencies involved must coordinate their efforts toward these common goals for them to be reached or maintained. The West Virginia Division of Environmental Protection has primary responsibility for solid waste, hazardous waste, air quality, and wastewater issues. The West Virginia Bureau for Public Health has primary responsibility for drinking water, indoor air, childhood lead poisoning, radon, recreational water use, healthy behaviors, and clean indoor air. The Department of Agriculture has the lead in issues related to intense livestock production.

We must employ all resources at our disposal to work toward our objectives. One resource, which is just now becoming readily available, is the Geographical Information Systems (GIS) employed by the Office of Environmental Health and the Division of Environmental Protection. Using GIS technology to layer information concerning sewage discharges, water intakes, well locations, disease outbreaks, high childhood blood lead levels, pollution sources, areas served by public sewage and water systems, radon testing, homes tested for lead paint, contaminated watersheds, hazardous waste sites, and many more, we can for the first time see the big picture. This could enable us to foresee the future, preventing disease with better efficiency and conserving our natural resources for future generations.

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Work Group Members

Joseph A. Wyatt, RS, Work Group Leader, Assistant Director, Public Health Sanitation Division, WVBPH
Ronald K. Forren, RS, Director, Public
Health Sanitation Division, Office of Environmental Health Services
Karen Hall-Dundas, RS, Sanitarian Cabell-Huntington Health Department
Craig Cobb, Engineer, Environmental Engineering Division, Office of Environmental Health Services
Donna Gorbey-Michael, Office Assistant, Fairmont District Office, Public Health Sanitation
Beattie DeBord, Radiation Technologist, Radiation Toxics & Indoor Air Division, Office of Environmental Health Services
Terry Polan, Chief Engineer, WVDEP Office of Air Quality

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CDC. "Update on Blood Lead Levels." Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report. Vol. 46, No. 7; 141. (February 21, 1997).

CDC. National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey. Atlanta, GA: U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Series 1, No. 32, 1994.

"Characterization of municipal solid waste." ISAPI. EPA530-S-98-007 (May 1998).

Farrell M. "Candle debate heats up
with new studies, international ban, harsh words for CASC." Indoor Environmental Connections 1.1 (1999).

GAI. "Solid waste characterization study for Watershed F and Watershed H in West Virginia." Solid Waste Management Board Project 95-569-01.

"Geographic information systems- their use in environmental epidemiologic research." Journal of Environmental Health. Vol. 61, No. 3. (October 1998).

For More Information

Public Health Sanitation Division
Office of Environmental Health Services
Suite 418
815 Quarrier Street,
Charleston, WV 25301
Phone: (304) 558-2981; Fax: (304) 558-1071


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This page was last updated June 13, 2001.
For additional information about HP2010, contact Chuck Thayer at (304) 558-0644 or Chuck.E.Thayer@wv.gov