About Environmental Health Services

Environmental health programs work to keep communities safe. Water, Food, and Environmental Health Services Branch (WFEHSB) staff help strengthen for these frontline programs by providing resources, technical assistance, and funding. We focus on safe water, food safety, environmental health practice, and vessel (cruise ship) sanitation.

Safe Water

Water is both a basic need and a source of recreational enjoyment.

Ensuring safe drinking and recreational water is important because

  • About 1 in 8 Americans get their drinking water from a private well. About 1 in 5 sampled private wells were found to be contaminated at levels that could affect health.
  • Legionella bacteria causes more than half of waterborne disease outbreaks, and about 1 in 10 people that that get sick from Legionnaires’ disease will die. CDC investigations show almost all (9 in 10) Legionnaires’ disease outbreaks were caused by problems preventable with more effective water management.
  • A recent study found that about 1 in 8 public pool inspections and 1 in 7 of public hot tub/spa inspections resulted in immediate closure because of at least one identified violation that represented a serious threat to public health.

WFEHSB

  • Funds state and local health departments to improve safe drinking water programs.
  • Creates and promotes training, guidance, and other resources to reduce health risks in building plumbing systems (Legionella).
  • Provides model guidance and training to address health risks in public pools and other aquatic venues (Model Aquatic Health Code).

Food Safety

Foodborne illness is a significant problem in the United States.

Ensuring food safety in restaurants, banquet facilities, schools, and other institutions is important because

  • More than half of all foodborne outbreaks in the United States are associated with restaurants, delis, banquet facilities, schools, and other institutions.
  • Key restaurant practices affect transmission of norovirus and other causes of foodborne illness and outbreaks.

WFEHSB

  • Partners with health departments to research restaurant food safety and identify practices to reduce illnesses and outbreaks (Environmental Health Specialists Network).
  • Tracks the environmental causes of foodborne illness outbreaks (National Environmental Assessment Reporting System).
  • Trains environmental health professionals on skills needed to investigate outbreaks in restaurants (Environmental Assessment Training Series).

Environmental Health Practice

Environmental health practice is critical to the public health delivery system because environmental health professionals are strategically positioned to assess, control, and prevent emerging threats.

Building a stronger environmental health practice is important because

  • Environmental health professionals commonly work in multiple program areas, requiring unique technical and scientific expertise.
  • Environmental health professionals can leverage data to increase the impact of their services and inform best practices.
  • About 1 in 4 environmental health professionals plans to retire within 5 years, presenting recruitment and workforce development needs.

WFEHSB

  • Builds the capacity of environmental health programs to address environmental health hazards and to use data to improve services (Environmental Health Capacity program).
  • Provides training and other resources on emergency response and recovery, vector control, and other environmental health areas.
  • Supports initiatives to strengthen the current and future environmental health workforce.

Vessel Sanitation Program

VSP applies environmental health principles to their mission to help the cruise industry prevent and control the introduction, transmission, and spread of gastrointestinal illness on cruise ships in U.S. jurisdictions.

Applying environmental health principles to cruise ship sanitation is important because

  • Gastrointestinal illness can spread quickly in closed and semi enclosed environments, such as cruise ships.
  • Cruise ship sanitation practices in such areas as food safety, water safety, ventilation, and vector control can affect disease transmission.

WFEHSB

  • Inspects cruise ships and provides environmental health expertise to help the cruise ship industry prevent and control the spread of gastrointestinal illnesses on cruise ships.
  • Monitors gastrointestinal illnesses and investigates outbreaks.
  • Provides health education and public health information to the cruise ship industry, the traveling public, public health professionals, state and local health authorities, and the media.

The Water, Food, and Environmental Health Services Branch is part of the National Center for Environmental Health’s Division of Environmental Health Science and Practice.