Environmental health

​​​Why is Environmental Health Important?

For First Nations, the environment is vital in determining health and well-being. Our environment includes the land, air, water, food, housing and other resources that need to be cared for and considered to sustain healthy children, families and communities. 

Making Environmental Health Yours

The Environmental Health Officers (EHOs), working in Environmental Public Health Services, have transferred from Health Canada to FNHA. This area of Health Canada was generally well received prior to the transfer, as many of the staff had long working relationships with First Nations leadership and communities. The Environmental Health Program provides services to all First Nations across BC.

Some of the guiding principles of the Environmental Health Services are to:

•  Build on relationships with First Nations

•  Continue to work with individual Nations based on their needs and concerns

•  Collaborate with public health workers, local and provincial health authorities, and other municipal, provincial and federal departments and agencies when delivering programs in First Nations communities

•  Strive for on-reserve services comparable to those available off-reserve

Role of Environmental Health Officers

Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) provide advice, education, inspections and recommendations to First Nations and their leadership to help them manage public health risks associated with the environment. They collect data and observations to determine whether a public health risk exists, and determine what steps can be taken to improve conditions. Chief and Council are responsible for addressing the recommendations provided.

All EHOs working in First Nations communities are certified by Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors , a minimum requirement in British Columbia.

Interested in becoming an Environmental Health Officer? Contact your local Environmental Health Officer if you would like more information about the work. Certain schools across Canada offer special training. See CIPHI.ca for a list of training institutions. http://www.ciphi.ca/careers/education/

Environmental Public Health Services

Activities such as inspections, training sessions and public education are provided according to a frequency agreed upon by EHOs and Chiefs and Councils in their community work plans; or as required at the request of Chiefs and Councils.

FNHA Environmental Public Health Services works to identify and prevent environmental public health risks in First Nations communities that could impact the health of community members. Where public health risks are identified, recommendations are provided to reduce these risks.

Through community training, education and awareness, community capacity is increased to achieve a healthy and safe environment. The FNHA would like to share our Environmental Public Health Services compendium for First Nations communities.


Core program areas are:

Drinking Water

Services provided are:

• Drinking water system inspections and monitoring of drinking water quality are carried out for bacteriological, chemical, physical and radiological parameters to meet the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality.
• Chief and Council and community members are provided information and education on safe drinking water and risk prevention.
• Advice, guidance and recommendations are provided to First Nations communities about drinking water safety issues such as drinking water advisories.
• Community-Based Water Monitors (CBWMs) are trained to collect and send water samples for testing; and, where available, analyze samples using in-community testing equipment. 
• Plans for new or upgraded community water systems are reviewed from a public health perspective



​Individual Well Toolkit (hard copies can also be requested from your EHO): http://publications.gc.ca/collections/collection_2010/sc-hc/H34-214-3-2010-eng.pdf

Food Safety


It is critical that food is kept safe during storage, preparation, cooking and service to prevent foodborne illnesses.

Services provided are:

• Inspections of all food facilities to verify safe handling of foods
• FOODSAFE® training program for food handlers.
• Education on safe handling and preparation of traditional and conventional foods
• Notifications of food recalls and alerts
• Investigations when foodborne illness is suspected or confirmed


Food Safety for First Nations: https://www.canada.ca/​en/health-canada/services/food-safety-vulnerable-populations/food-safety-first-nations.html​

Food Safety Fact Sheets: http://healthycanadians.gc.ca/eating-nutrition/healthy-eating-saine-alimentation/safety-salubrite/vulnerable-populations/first-premieres-nations-eng.php

FNHA Temporary Food Services Permit

BCCDC Shellfish Harvesting Mapping Tool:  http://maps.bccdc.org/shellfish/

Providing Traditional Foods in Childcare Settings: https://www.acc-society.bc.ca/wp-content/uploads/2018/06/Traditional-Foods-Info-Sheet-FINALCOPY_reduce.pdf


Food Safety For First Nations - Foodborne Illness

Food Safety For First Nations - Community Events

Handwashing Poster

Healthy Housing


A healthy home means that residents have the physical and social conditions necessary for health, safety, hygiene and comfort. Poor housing conditions - such as mould, lack of safe drinking water, and overcrowding - can affect the health of residents.

Services provided are:

• Public health inspections of housing, provided on request
• Work with First Nation housing departments, INAC and CMHC to help address public health issues in housing
• Education on how to maintain a safe and healthy home


Mould and Your Health: https://www.canada.ca/en/health-canada/services/air-quality/indoor-air-contaminants/reduce-humidity-moisture-mould.html

Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation: https://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en​​

Radon - BC Lung Association: http://www.radonaware.ca/

Certified Radon Mitigation Professionals: http://c-nr​pp.ca/find-a-professional


Wastewater (sewage) is capable of spreading disease and can be harmful to humans. Community treatment plants and on-site sewage disposal systems that are properly designed, installed and operated are important to prevent and reduce risks.

Services provided are:

• Assessment of new installations and repairs to malfunctioning systems for proper design and treatment
• Ensuring on-site sewage systems conform to the BC Sewerage System Standard Practice Manual; design and installation documents are submitted to the local EPHS office 
• Conducting inspections when there are public health concerns

On-site wastewater systems constructed on-reserve should be installed based on the current provincial BC Sewerage Standard Practice Manual. Please contact an EHO for applicable forms and submission process. 

Solid Waste Disposal

Garbage dumps, dump sites or landfills can be a public health hazard if not managed properly. Toxic substances from certain household and industrial items may contaminate the air, water and/or soil. As a result, improper disposal at landfills, into open water bodies or into existing sewage systems may negatively impact people and the environment.

Services provided are:

• Waste disposal sites and transfer stations are assessed and recommendations provided to reduce or prevent risks.
• EHOs work closely with First Nations, INAC and other agencies to address waste disposal issues in communities.

• Public education is provided to create awareness of proper disposal and protection of health and the environment.

Facilities Inspections

Facilities used by residents or the public include those that provide health services, community care, recreation and special events.

Services provided include:

• Facilities are inspected for: general sanitation; general structure; safety conditions; food safety practices; water quality; sewage and solid waste disposal; pest control; crowding; and air quality
• Education and awareness provided to facility operators, community members and leadership to promote health and safety at facilities

Community care facilities that require provincial licensing should also contact the appropriate regional health authority licensing office. 

Communicable Disease Control

Promotion and prevention of diseases is the primary goal of environmental health inspections and activities.

Services provided are:

• Health surveillance, investigation and education are provided to address foodborne, waterborne and vector-borne (infections transmitted by species such as mosquitoes, ticks and blackflies) diseases.
• EHOs work closely with health professionals in communities and regional health authorities to provide a coordinated response to illnesses and outbreaks.

BC Centre for Disease Control: http://www.bccdc.ca/

Emergency Preparedness and Response Planning

First Nations communities need to prepare for and respond to emergencies such as floods, wild fires, chemical spills, storms, contamination of food or water supplies and disease outbreaks.

Services provided are:

• Guidance is provided in the development of emergency response plans to ensure that public health and safety is maintained should an emergency occur.
• During an emergency, public health inspections are provided for temporary accommodations, residential and public buildings, drinking water, food services, solid waste and wastewater disposal systems.
• EHOs work closely with the community and emergency operations centres to assist in identifying and controlling public health risks during an emergency situation and after the emergency has ended.

To receive additional information and tools to help develop your community's comprehensive all-hazards emergency management plan, please email the INAC BC Region's Emergency Management Unit at: BCEMU@aandc-aadnc.gc.ca .

FNHA Preparedness brochure

Cleaning Up After the Flood: https://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/emergency-preparedness-response-recovery/preparedbc/know-your-hazards/floods/after-flood

BC Wildfire Status: ​http://www2.gov.bc.ca/gov/content/safety/wildfire-status

Drought Planning Information: http://www.fnha.ca/AboutSite/NewsAndEventsSite/NewsSite/Documents/FNHA-Drought-Planning-Information-for-First-Nations-Communities.pdf

Environmental Contaminants, Research and Risk Assessment 

People may be exposed to many sources of naturally occurring and man-made environmental contaminants. At certain levels, exposure to contaminants in air, water, food and soil can cause or contribute to a variety of adverse health effects.

• The Environmental Contaminants Program (ECP) funds research projects that explore the link between human health and chemical environmental contaminants.

· The ECP helps communities address their environmental health concerns and enables research at the community level; it encourages the integration of Indigenous ways of knowing, Traditional Knowledge and empirical science.

• Where suspected or confirmed risks from contaminants exist, assistance is available to interpret research results and provide recommendations to control exposure.

Guidelines for Proposals

BC First Nations Food, Nutrition, and Environment Study : http://www.fnfnes.ca/

Drinking Water Advisories

Drinking Water Advisory information is available on the Drinking Water page.

What to Expect in the Future

As part of  FNHA's work to transform health services and programs, Environmental Public Health Services will be evaluating core programs to ensure they meet the needs and priorities of communities. This will include engaging communities for feedback on existing programs and priority areas for transformation.


Environmental Public Health Services works closely with regional, provincial and federal ministries, authorities and organizations to ensure that BC First Nations communities are supported to address identified risks. Our partners include:

Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors http://www.ciphi.ca/home

Canadian Mortgage and Housing Corporation http://www.cmhc-schl.gc.ca/en/ab/index.cfm

Regional Health Authorities: 

Vancouver Coastal Health http://www.vch.ca/your-environment/

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