Environmental public health is concerned with all aspects of the natural and built environment that may affect human health. The Office of Environmental Health (OEH) program is part of TCC’s Health Services Department. We provide both routine and project-related services in the TCC villages; other services are provided at a village’s request.
Each TCC village has an assigned team which includes an Environmental Health Specialist, Engineer, Remote Maintenance Worker, and Solid Waste Technician. Teams work closely with each village to identify their work priorities and maintain input from the community on current and future activities.
Bed bugs are a nuisance pest that are part of our modern life. Bed bugs can be anywhere that people are. Like mosquitoes, bed bugs feed on your blood. They usually feed on us while we are sleeping. These parasites get around by hitchhiking on your clothing or luggage when you travel, so it is important to always inspect your lodgings to prevent bringing these critters home with you. Bed bugs don’t spread any diseases to us, but they are very hard to get rid of if you end up with an infestation in your home.
OEH staff can identify bed bugs for you, provide training in bed bug prevention and mitigation, and help you develop a plan to get rid of them. OEH is not a pest control company and does not conduct home treatments. OEH will host community question & answer meetings about bed bugs upon request.
A brownfield is a potentially contaminated site that a community would like to clean up and reuse for another purpose.
In rural Alaska common brownfield sites include old tank farms; abandoned buildings; oil spills; mine-scarred lands; and illegal dumping sites. Brownfields may leave lands ruined for many generations to come. Cleaning up and reusing these sites protects human health and the environment while helping to preserve the land for future generations.
Tribal Response Program
The Tribal Response Program (TRP) is open to all TCC member Tribes. The TRP is available to help Tribes begin the process of addressing brownfields in their communities. Services include:
- Education about brownfield basics
- Creating an inventory of brownfield sites in your village
- Research opportunities for site assessment and clean up
- Planning for site assessment and reuse
- Collaborate between Tribal, state, and federal partners for brownfields management
- Brownfield prevention
- Maintain the Public Record of contaminated sites within the TCC region
Brownfield redevelopment in rural Alaska looks very different than in the lower 48. Some options for brownfield reuse in Alaskan villages include:Restored subsistence use areas
- Recreational areas
- Heavy equipment storage
- Recycling center
- Housing or public infrastructure
Elements & Tools
The TCC Office of Environmental Health provides comprehensive support services for village drinking water systems and the sanitary disposal of sewage. This includes:
- Performance of sanitary surveys for public water systems (PWSs).
- Training and support in monitoring water quality.
- Investigations into sources of contamination.
- Training and continuing education for water and wastewater system operators.
- Training and support for village utility managers.
- Assistance with the preparation of village utility’s annual consumer confidence reports.
- Assistance with the planning of new water infrastructure through coordination with funding agencies and representation during project development.
- Engineering representation during the planning and design stage of projects.
- Hands-on training and emergency repair support through the Remote Maintenance Worker Program.
- Compliance assistance in meeting State drinking water regulations.
Village Drinking Water Treatment
TCC helps its villages assure that the water provided to residents is safe, through a number of services as described above. But how does a typical village water system work? The poster below shows a few of the most common treatment methods used in our villages.
Remote Maintenance Worker (RMW) Program
The Remote Maintenance Worker (RMW) Program is funded by the State of Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation (Alaska DEC). Per the Alaska DEC, the RMW Program “develops the capacity of Rural Alaskans to operate local water and sewer facilities, while safeguarding State and Federal capital investments in utility infrastructure. Our primary services are to:
- Provide over-the-shoulder training and technical assistance to local water and sewer operators in over 180 rural communities through a circuit rider program.
- Provide immediate response to emergency situations that threaten or impact community water and sewer facilities.
- Provide regional classroom training for area utility operators.
- Maintain an inventory of emergency repair equipment for use in utility emergencies.
Water & Wastewater Operator Resources
- Alaska DEC Drinking Water Program : Provides access to regulations, guidance
- Alaska DEC Drinking Water Watch : Water quality testing results & records of violations for all regulated public water systems.
- Alaska DEC Small Water System Operators : Resources for operators and for those who are interested in becoming certified.
- Alaska Training Coalition Calendar : Upcoming training courses for operator certification and continuing education credits (CEUs)
- ANTHC Scattered Sites Application : Apply for a grant to install an individual household well & septic system. Link to application is at the bottom of the page.
TCC Village RMW Assignments
TCC’s RMW program employs 3 full-time RMWs that provide services to all of TCC’s villages, but primarily to villages with water systems, currently counted at 29. TCC RMWs provide services only to community water and wastewater systems. TCC RMWs do not provide services to individual homes, schools, clinics, or other facilities not directly related to the community water system.
Emergency management focuses on creating plans and being prepared to decrease the ill effects of disasters.
Planning & Preparedness
Natural disasters are a common occurrence in Interior Alaska. We are prone to earthquakes, wildfires, extreme winter conditions, and seasonal flooding. OEH staff works within the TCC Emergency Response Team to ensure tribal governments and public health infrastructure are prepared for emergencies.
Hazard & Risk Assessment
OEH also participates in responses to village disasters. Most often staff travel to villages post-disaster to conduct hazard and risk assessments of infrastructure. Clinics, public water systems and other facilities are inspected to ensure the health and safety of returning workers is protected and drinking water is safe.
OEH maintains a collection of fact sheets and guidance documents about post-disaster risks such as drinking water safety, food safety, wastewater cleanup and oil spills. We also post health and safety messages on the TCC Facebook page after a disaster event.
Even Alaskans spend the majority of our time indoors. Because we spend so much time inside, the indoor environment plays a critical role in our health. A healthy home supports good health!
Indoor Air Quality & Mold
OEH gets many calls about indoor air quality and mold specifically. Mold is everywhere in the environment, so we don’t recommend a test for mold. If you see mold in your home, we do recommend finding the source of moisture and fixing that before cleaning up the mold. Thoroughly removing the mold and keeping the area dry are integral to preventing the mold from returning. See our mold guidance for how to Get Rid of Mold! (PDF)
Aside from mold, studies have shown that some air pollutants can actually be 2 to 5 times higher indoors than outdoors. We recommend using your home’s ventilation system to remove the old, stale air from your home and bring in fresh, clean air. Take a look at EPA’s website here to learn more about indoor air pollutants.
Education & Tools
OEH conducts “Healthy Homes Inspections” upon request. Often a healthcare provider will suggest this type of inspection if a patient has been experiencing symptoms that could be related to the conditions in the home. We’ve also developed an inspection checklist if IGAP staff or others are interested in doing these inspections themselves in the village.
The primary focus of Institutional Environmental Health is healthcare facilities. OEH also works with village-based programs that provide service to vulnerable populations, such as children and elders, to ensure these facilities are safe for staff, clients, and visitors.
- Annual environmental health and safety inspections.
- Food safety and sanitation.
- Training in food safety, communicable disease prevention, play area safety, and related topics.
Village Health Clinics
- Annual environmental health and safety surveys.
- Accreditation consultation.
- Conduct design reviews of new village clinics.
- Environmental compliance.
- Training upon request.
Environment of Care
OEH supports environmental health and safety at Fairbanks based facilities by participating in activities with Health Services’ Safety Officer:
- Advises as part of the Health Services Safety & Infection Control Committee.
- Participates in hazard rounds at CAIHC and other local facilities.
Rabies is a virus that can infect all mammals, and it is most frequently transmitted to humans through a bite from a rabid animal. Foxes, especially in the North Slope, Northwest, and Southwest regions, are the most common transmitters of rabies in Alaska. Rabies is a serious disease that can cause death within days of symptoms, so be sure to seek medical attention as soon as possible if you suspect exposure.
The TCC Office of Environmental Health provides rabies vaccinations for dogs and cats under a State program in areas where rabies occurs naturally in the animal population.
The following villages in the TCC region can receive free rabies vaccinations through OEH:
- Arctic Village
- Birch Creek
- Fort Yukon
If you are interested in giving rabies shots, you can do so by becoming a certified Lay Vaccinator! Contact OEH for more information on this program.
For more information on rabies, check out the Alaska Rabies site.
Although OEH does not provide veterinary service, there are several private organizations in interior Alaska that do. Contact OEH for information on vet care organizations providing services in villages.
Village Based Solid Waste Management Support
Good management of your community’s solid waste stream will help to protect human health and the environment!
The overall goal of this program is to improve the local operation and management capacity of rural solid waste management facilities in Interior Alaska, supporting the development of healthy and sustainable communities. We strive to accomplish this through completing the following objectives:
- Provide on-site and distant comprehensive technical assistance to village councils, utility managers, and solid waste operators concerning solid waste management solutions.
- Provide a Solid Waste Management training class to enhance solid waste utility staff knowledge and skills.
- Provide on-site solid waste management education to K-12 students attending rural Alaskan schools.
- Update and maintain environmental assessments of solid waste sites including contamination threats to water resources and air quality.
Recycling in rural Alaska has gained more momentum over the years. This is due in large part to communities wanting to keep these materials out of their landfills. There are numerous opportunities to help your community start-up and sustain a recycling program. Give us a call or check out the following programs to begin planning a recycling program for your community: ALPAR’s recycling program, Green Star of Interior Alaska’s program, and other ADEC resources.
- Are you curious about which communities have a permitted Class III landfill? Check out ADEC’s Solid Waste Information Management System (SWIMS), and search for active Class III landfills in rural Alaska
- Household Hazardous Waste Collection
- Rural Alaska Community Action Program, Inc. (RurAL CAP)
- Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation’s (ADEC)
- Solid Waste Association of North America
- Zender Environmental Health and Research Group