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Effective public health response to an emerging environmental health issue: Perchlorate water contamination in a Santa Clara County, California community

Marty Fenstersheib, MD, MPH, Christine Jesser, MS, and Janie Burkhart, MPH. Santa Clara County Public Health Department, 3003 Moorpark Avenue, San Jose, CA 95128, 408-423-0707, marty.fenstersheib@hhs.co.scl.ca.us

In January 2003, news broke in the southern Santa Clara County, California community of San Martin, that perchlorate, a chemical used to make rocket fuel, fireworks, and road flares, had contaminated hundreds of private wells serving homeowners and ranchers. Thus began one small community’s involvement in an increasingly important national environmental health issue. The Santa Clara County Public Health Department became immediately involved in response to the problem. This presentation describes the leadership role, educational outreach efforts, community/agency collaborations, and lessons learned by the public health department. These include the importance of media and the internet to convey messages effectively; the need for additional outreach efforts to non-English speaking communities beyond conventional media; the innovative use of the County’s bioterrorism physician alert system to distribute information; and building positive relationships between community groups, local agencies (Santa Clara Valley Water District, County Agricultural Commission), state agencies (California Environmental Health Investigations Branch), and federal agencies (Agency for Toxic Substances Disease Registry, Environmental Protection Agency). Additionally, the public health department faced challenges such as presenting sound scientific data and advice to the public amidst a political quagmire of regulatory indecision and delays and an atmosphere of significant scientific debate over the health effects of perchlorate.

Learning Objectives:

Keywords: Environmental Health,

Presenting author's disclosure statement:
I do not have any significant financial interest/arrangement or affiliation with any organization/institution whose products or services are being discussed in this session.

Theory and Research in Health Communication

The 132nd Annual Meeting (November 6-10, 2004) of APHA