Standing up for Everyone’s Health, Each and Every Day



Today is Environmental Public Health Day

A message from Dr. Kamran Golmohammadi, FNHA Office of the Chief Medical Officer; Casey Neathway, FNHA Director, Regional Health Emergency Management; and Valerie Jackson, FNHA Environmental Health Officer, Interior Region

 “Standing up for everyone's health each and every day" is the theme for this year's Environmental Public Health Day, and that is exactly what we do here at the First Nations Health Authority (FNHA).

We are proud to be part of a dedicated team of Environmental Public Health (EPH) professionals who work hard at addressing environmental health issues impacting the health and well-being of First Nations communities across BC.

This important work is necessary to counteract the adverse effects of colonialism, among other factors. Under the racist Indian Act, First Nations people were forced onto reserves in remote areas with substandard living conditions and limited access to essential services. What's more, environmental contaminations are more likely to occur in remote areas away from major urban centres, and disproportionately impact First Nation communities. These contaminations are not only harmful to First Nations people's health but also to their wellness, as the ability to connect and be stewards of their lands and waters is a known determinant of health.  

The FNHA's work in the area of environmental public health aligns with the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which states, in Article 29. 3: “States shall take effective measures to ensure, as needed, that programs for monitoring, maintaining and restoring the health of Indigenous Peoples, as developed and implemented by the peoples affected [by hazardous materials dumped on their lands and territories], are duly implemented."

Natural Disasters and Emergency Response

The environmental impacts of climate change are becoming more pronounced and frequent. We can expect more natural disasters and extreme weather events requiring public health interventions including increased levels of communicable diseases associated with rising water temperatures, changed animal migration patterns, climate-related impacts on food safety and food security, evacuations, and damage to or loss of lands.

The FNHA's Indigenous Climate Health Action Program (ICHAP) will continue to support First Nations in reducing climate-change impacts on health by providing support and funding for climate-action projects that are community-driven and focus on health and wellness outcomes. (ICHAP project snapshots are found here.)

This year, First Nations communities across the province were heavily impacted by extreme weather events, including the worst wildfire season in Canada's history. Our EPH professionals played a crucial role in responding to wildfires and their potential health impacts on First Nations communities. Some of the typical responsibilities and actions include:

  • Monitoring air quality to assess levels of smoke and particulate matter. Air quality measurement tools can provide real-time information to communities.
  • Putting health advisories in place if there is a risk to the health of a community due to an effect from the fire, e.g., a water quality advisory due to power loss or impacts on drinking water.
  • Working with local health authorities, First Nations leadership, and emergency management agencies to coordinate an effective emergency response to emergencies / wildfire and climate disasters.
  • Participating in the Emergency Operations Centre.
  • Assisting the community in coordinating the distribution of masks, air purifiers, and other resources to vulnerable populations, to help mitigate the health impacts of wildfire smoke.
  • Providing community education sessions to a) inspire people to collaborate in protecting their health and the health of their community, and b) raise awareness about the health risks associated with wildfire smoke and to promote prevention measures.

Through our Environmental Public Health Program, we will continue responding to natural disasters and emergencies that affect First Nations communities in BC. We will also continue working directly with First Nations community members doing housing inspections, providing community education including about food safety and vector-borne diseases, providing water-monitor training and resources for community members to monitor and sample their community's water, doing individual drinking water system sampling and radon testing, and ensuring sanitary facilities. To learn more, visit our web page.​​

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