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With the increasing public awareness of the seriousness of ecological imbalance and the resulting public pressure on government to take steps to avert and abate environmental threats to health, the search for effective environmental health promotion programmes is taking place in a radically altered social setting. Public health, from the time of the industrial revolution up to the recent past was principally concerned with the abatement of health nuisances in the form of sewage and other putrescible waste accumulations, the introduction of water carriage sewerage systems, the purification of water supplies, vaccination, rodent control and other measures geared to reduce the incidence of infectious disease. The success story of these advances has resulted in a change in the pattern of unfulfilled health needs within the community. Widespread communicable disease has been replaced by the so-called ‘diseases of choice.’ Over indulgence in food, alcohol and smoking has brought new challenges to health workers. Mass food production, distribution and sale have posed ‘consumer protection’ challenges to legislators and health personnel. Urbanisation and technological changes in the industrial field have made effluent and litter pollution a major problem. The need to influence the behaviour and attitudes of the public at large with regard to matters affecting their health is a major challenge at present facing environmental health workers. Individual health is increasingly a determinant of individual knowledge, attitude and action, and thus the importance of education.

The health inspector is, by the very nature of his work, an educator. Every time he talks to a person in the course of his work he is acting in the role of an educator. He explains what is wrong or what can be improved and discusses how corrections and improvements can be made. He informs on the services and programmes available through the planning, housing and sanitary authorities and through the Health Board and other agencies. Every inspection is an opportunity to point out the services available and can be a positive exercise in good public relations.

The preparation of suitable literature, including leaflets, pamphlets, and press releases adapted to local conditions, can do much to obtain acceptance of good environmental health practices. It also helps to avoid confusion in the interpretation of recommendations.

A pamphlet on rural water supplies can illustrate and explain good well and spring construction and protection. A leaflet on food poisoning highlights the importance of refrigeration and hygienic food handling practices. A booklet covering the certificate course in the Principles and Practices of Food Hygiene serves as material for the course, and as a reference source to those in the food catering business. A document on septic tanks can point out the importance of inspecting, desludging and modifying them as the need requires. A hand-out on standards for septic tank and percolation system construction will assist developers installing such systems to conform with the best practices available. Leaflets on pest control for rodents, and insects of public health importance provide a valuable and convenient service to the public. Documents containing advice on the common environmental health problems encountered serve as an important mechanism in environmental health education.

A reservoir of talent and dedication to the promotion of improved environmental conditions exists among our members and the orchestration of these talents and pooling of resources which has been undertaken by a recently elected committee of our Association is seen as an important step in ensuring that our environmental health education message will secure optimal results.