Environmental Public Health

What is Environmental Public Health?

Environmental Health Services are delivered in First Nations communities throughout British Columbia by Environmental Health Officers (EHOs) employed by the First Nations Health Authority. Key programming includes:

• Environmental public health assessments (e.g., public health inspections, investigations, drinking water quality monitoring),

• Training, and

• Public education and awareness.

Activities are delivered in core areas such as: Drinking Water; Food Safety; Health and Housing; Wastewater; Solid Waste Disposal; Facilities Inspections; Environmental Communicable Disease Control; and Emergency Preparedness and Response.

Making Environmental Public Health Yours

Environmental Public Health and EHOs have now transferred to the FNHA from Health Canada. This area of Health Canada was generally well received prior to the transfer, as many of the staff have worked with First Nations for long periods and have created relationships with First Nations leadership and communities.

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

• The Environmental Health program area builds on relationships with First Nations and is fitted into existing and developing FNHA planning and engagement streams.

• Continue to work with Nations individually

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

• Strive for a level of on-reserve services comparable to that available off-reserve.


• Identify and prevent environmental public health risks that could negatively affect the health of community residents.

• Recommend corrective action(s) that may be taken by community leaders and residents to reduce or mitigate these risks.

Drinking Water

The Environmental Health section of the FNHA provides:

• Public education about safe drinking water and risk prevention;
• Provides training and education material to Community-Based Water Monitors (CBWMs);
• Provides drinking water quality testing;
• Review and interpret drinking water quality results according to the latest version of the Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality including bacteriological, chemical, physical and radiological parameters; and
• Provides engineering reviews of water infrastructure project proposals from a public health perspective. 

Health and Housing

A healthy home means that residents have the physical and social conditions necessary for health, safety, hygiene and comfort. The Environmental Public Health Program works with First Nations communities and other agencies to help address public health issues in housing at various stages: site and design, construction, occupancy and demolition. This is accomplished through on-request public health inspections of housing, public education and training sessions.

Food Safety

The EPHP works with First Nations communities to prevent foodborne illness and address public health issues related to both traditional and conventional foods. Activities include:

• Public education,
• Food handler training and
• Routine and on-request public health inspections of permanent, seasonal and special event food service facilities.

Canning Foods Safely: How to Avoid Botulism (PDF 784 KB)

Facilities Inspections

The EPHP works with First Nations communities, owners, operators, employees and users of facilities (health, community care, recreational and general facilities) to help prevent the spread of communicable disease, minimize public health risks and reduce safety hazards. Activities include providing routine and on-request inspections, providing advice, guidance and recommendations and delivering public education and awareness sessions related to public health and safety within facilities.

Communicable Disease Control

The Environmental Public Health Program is responsible for the environmental public health component of communicable disease control. All regular program activities, for example, public health inspections, water monitoring, and food handler training, aim to prevent illness and the spread of communicable diseases.

Specific surveillance, investigation and educational activities are also undertaken to address environmental health communicable diseases (i.e., those that are foodborne or waterborne (e.g., Salmonella and E. coli) or vector borne (e.g., West Nile virus).

Emergency Preparedness and Response

First Nations communities need to prepare for and respond to emergencies such as earthquakes and tsunamis, floods, forest fires, chemical spills, wind storms, contamination of food or water supplies and disease outbreaks. The Environmental Public Health Program works with partners to ensure environmental public health considerations are included in emergency planning and response activity.

Activities include assessment of environmental public health risks during emergency planning, response and recovery situations and providing advice, guidance, and recommendations on how to minimize these risks.

Solid Waste Disposal

Solid waste or garbage can be a public health hazard if it is not managed properly. For example household garbage, discarded tires, appliances, furniture and abandoned cars may pose health and safety risks. Waste disposal sites can attract disease-spreading pests and can leach pollutants that contaminate the air, soil and water, including drinking water supplies.

EPHP works with communities and other agencies to help limit public health risks posed by solid waste disposal. Activities include conducting environmental public health assessments of disposal sites and transfer stations, and providing advice and public education about health waste disposal practices, and providing engineering reviews of solid waste site project proposals from a public health perspective.


EPHP identifies existing and potential hazards associated with wastewater disposal in order to reduce and prevent public health risks. Program activities focus on community wastewater treatment plants as well as on-site sewage disposal systems. Activities include onsite inspection and installation approvals, conducting environmental public health assessments, providing public education, and providing engineering reviews of wastewater infrastructure project proposals from a public health perspective.

What to Expect in the Future

Environmental Health Services build upon the relationships that have been developed with First Nations over the years. The EHOs and the Environmental Health Services are being fitted into existing and developing FNHA planning and engagement streams. Changes may be coming to the program but they will be directed by engagement with BC First Nations as part of the ongoing planning and engagement with Nations in BC.

Additional Resources

Water Well Disinfection

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