NEHA 2017 AEC WRAP-UP: Local Solutions. National Influence.

Author:Ashley, Jonna
 
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GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN

Over 800 environmental health professionals convened at NEHA's 81st Annual Educational Conference (AEC) & Exhibition to deliberate, learn, and exchange ideas and experiences regarding the urgent issues facing environmental health both locally and nationally. The picturesque Grand River served as the backdrop to five days of workshops, networking, and over 200 educational sessions covering noteworthy, and sometimes controversial, topics such as marijuana edibles, restaurant grading, body art, and environmental justice.

During the Opening Session, Representative Brenda Lawrence (D-Michigan) commenced the AEC by urging everyone to "stay woke" on environmental health legislatives issues and delivered an inspiring keynote address that had attendees talking throughout the conference. Representative Lawrence's address was a rare opportunity to hear a government official speak boldly and knowledgeably on the topics that matter most to environmental health professionals, which demonstrates NEHA's ongoing commitment to being the national voice for environmental health advocacy.

National and local issues were not the only topics covered during the 2017 AEC. NEHA pushed the boundaries of this year's theme by welcoming attendees and presenters from across the globe. A global leadership panel discussion was held among environmental health association directors from Australia, Canada, Jamaica, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. to further international connections and facilitate discussions on challenges and insights from around the world.

As always, some of the most important connections at the AEC were made over food and drinks with old friends and new colleagues. There was no shortage of socializing and community in Grand Rapids! Almost 600 environmental health professionals showed up at the Brews, Blues, & BBQ event to share stories and laughs, and sample a bit of the local flavor in "Beer City."

We look forward to another year of connecting, learning, and having fun at the 2018 AEC being held June 25-28 in Anaheim, California. Check out the 2018 AEC promo on page 51. We hope to see you there!

KEYNOTE ADDRESS & OPENING SESSION

Representative Brenda Lawrence Claims Environmental Health Workforce Critical to Environmental Justice in 2017 AEC Keynote Address

Representative Brenda Lawrence (D-Michigan) opened the 2017 AEC with a powerful and passionate keynote address on the role of the environmental health workforce in environmental justice. She began by praising the work of environmental health professionals, stating that the "environmental health workforce is critical and is what oils the wheels of this great country ... the impact is honorable and based on helping a human being."

Representative Lawrence is also supporting the environmental health workforce by sponsoring H.R. 1909--the Environmental Health Workforce Act of 2017--that addresses the need for education and training for environmental health professionals. "Every American deserves the right to safe drinking water, clean air to breathe, and a healthy community to raise their children," Lawrence said. She encouraged 2017 AEC attendees to "continue to do what you are doing" and to use the AEC as a time for learning.

Opening Session: Environmental Justice Panel Discussion

Continuing with the topic of environmental justice, Dr. Renee Branch Canady, chief executive officer of the Michigan Public Health Institute, led a panel discussion, "Aiming for Equity."

Joining Dr. Canady was Dr. Pamela Pugh, public health advisor for the City of Flint; Dr. Marcus Cheatham, health officer for the Mid-Michigan District Health Department; and Ponsella Hardaway, executive director of Detroit's Metropolitan Organizing Strategy Enabling Strength (MOSES) nonprofit organization.

The thought-provoking discussion centered on issues such as water and lead contamination in Flint, water shut offs in Detroit, and the polybrominated biphenyls event in mid-Michigan. The panel spoke of the need to nationally raise key issues in critical health threats.

EDUCATION & TRAINING

Over 800 AEC attendees participated in approximately 200 educational sessions, learning labs, workshops, and networking events. Topics ranged from marijuana edibles and the restaurant grading debate to a live tattoo demonstration and body art trends for the 21st century.

It was standing room only with more than 130 attendees engaged in the "Marijuana Edibles: Are They Safe? Challenges and Successes of Our States" panel discussion. Attendees heard from state and local regulatory agencies, legal and laboratory testing experts, and edible industry partners who discussed issues crucial to the safety of the growing process, product development for recreational and medical distribution facilities, legal challenges, and enforcement. The discussion also included how food safety is ensured and the challenges and successes related to dosage monitoring, pathogen testing, labeling and packaging controls, hazard analysis and critical control point (HACCP) plans, and training.

To gain a global environmental health perspective, a panel of environmental health presidents and directors from Australia, Canada, Jamaica, the United Kingdom, and the U.S. assembled to discuss emerging issues and topics facing their countries during "Global Leadership: Executive Directors Weigh-In."

In keeping with emerging issues, a late breaking session to address the opioid addiction crisis was added to the agenda with a packed room of interested attendees.

With so many topics covered in areas such as informatics, water, food safety, preparedness, climate and health, and more, the most difficult decision to make for attendees was which tracks and sessions to attend. NEHA thanks all the presenters, moderators, and attendees who made these 200 sessions possible and successful.

Closing Session

Bringing the conference to a close was an incredible panel discussion on sustainability. "Sustainability: What Does Green Mean for Health Officials" was moderated by Josh Jacobs, technical information and public affairs manager for UL. Joining the panel was Walker Smith, director of global affairs and policy at the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency; Gabe Wing, director of safety and sustainability for Herman Miller; and Eric DeLong, deputy city manager for Grand Rapids.

Each panelist gave a presentation on what sustainability means to their specific area and provided examples of projects in which they are involved. They closed the session with a discussion on how sustainability is an integral part of building, procurement...

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