TEACHER’S GUIDE CASE STUDY IN ASSESSMENT/ASSURANCE STUDY QUESTIONS
1. Was lack of communication between the company, the health department, and the politicians, a barrier to effective public health messaging in this case? Was lack of communication between North American Oil, the state EPA and the health department a barrier to effective public health leadership in this case?
The lack of communication between the company, the health department and the politicians was a barrier to effective public health messaging in this case. However, due to lack of communication between North American Oil, the state EPA and the health department was not a barrier to effective public health leadership in this case. The lack of communication between the health department, and the other agencies resulted in a misperception by residents of the contaminated water supply. A lack of communication between various agencies should have been a signal that there is a greater problem with contamination than was realized.
2. How could the health department have provided leadership to the community to assure that the public was informed of health risks caused by chemicals in the water supply?
The health department could have been more active in providing leadership to the community in several ways. The first was to make sure that in all the meetings with representatives of North American Oil, the state EPA and concerned citizens groups that they were present. Their presence would give credence and credibility to information provided by the Oil Company and state EPA experts. Second, the health departments could have readily provided current information on potential health risks when asked by media or members of the public. Finally, they should have established a hotline for concerns and questions regarding potential health risks related to chemicals in drinking water. This would allow them to collect data on what members of the public are concerned about what type of information are they seeking from local health departments.
3. What responsibility did the health department have in educating the public about 1) the water supply, and 2) personal health protection in the presence of environmental contaminants?
The health department should have been responsible for educating the public about the water supply by providing them with as much information as possible regarding chemical levels of contaminants in the water. Another responsibility they had was educating the public on personal health protection in the presence of environmental contaminants. For example, direct exposure to contaminated drinking water can be avoided by using bottled water, or filtering it at home with a home water purification system. Health departments can also help educate people regarding personal safety and protection from environmental hazards by providing information on how to safely clean-up a chemical spill at home, or any other steps that may be required in certain circumstances.
4. How could a local or regional emergency preparedness plan have helped the health department to communicate to the public information about the oil spill, safe water supply, future disasters, and health protection? In reviewing health concerns regarding the oil spill related chemical and products, what populations were omitted from the assessment? How could this issue be addressed now?
A local or regional emergency preparedness plan could have helped the health department to communicate to the public information about the oil spill, safe water supply, future disasters and health protection in several ways. First, they would be better prepared in terms of personnel and supplies if there were another disaster such as this one. Second, they would be better prepared in terms of knowledge and training on how to respond effectively to an emergency. Third, the response plans would standardized rather than relying on a variety of individual efforts resulting in more efficient use of public resources. Fourth, they could work together even with departments that may not have anything to do with public health such as fire, police and others so that when an event occurs one agency can call upon others for assistance.
5. What steps should a local health department take to evaluate any concerns about the environmental issues and the excessive COVID-19 related deaths? What other agencies and organizations could potentially be involved in an initial public emergency and the new concerns about the impacts of the pandemic on the health of the population?
A local health department should evaluate any concerns about the environmental issues and contribute to the state-wide effort on behalf of the public to establish a possible link between the oil spill and excessive COVID-19 mortality (Becchetti, 2022). This conclusion would then be forwarded to other agencies such as the state health department, state EPA, Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and others for further assessment. Any other agency that may be involved in an initial public emergency is also likely to be involved in this event since they had a role in developing the greatest concern among residents regarding potential health risks from chemical contamination of drinking water supplies. Such agencies include:
a) U.S. Environmental Protection Agency – The U.S. EPA, along with other federal agencies like the Food and Drug Administration, National Institute of Health would be involved in the assessment of this event.
b) Regional EPA – The Regional EPA, along with other federal agencies like the U.S. EPA would be involved in the assessment of this event because they have a major role in implementing state-wide air quality monitoring programs for industrial facilities and refineries.
6. What is the role of a private corporation in an environmental spill? How can a local health department assist them in that role?
A private corporation is a legal entity that is separate from the government. A corporation means people do not have to pay property taxes and its assets are not considered part of the public domain (Li, 2022). The legal relationship between the corporation and the state or federal government can be called “contractual”. This may differ from a partnership—a business venture between two people. Just because there is no contract does not mean there is no liability for reporting on what happened; but it does reduce the responsibility of a company to report on what happened. Underreporting of spills like this also makes a profit for that company, so there may be pressure to keep quiet about it.
Becchetti, L. B. (2022). Particulate matter and COVID-19 excess deaths: Decomposing long-term exposure and short-term effects. . Ecological Economics, 107340.
Li, B. X. (2022). Mixed-ownership reform and private firms’ corporate social responsibility practices: evidence from China. . Business & Society, 61(2), 389-418.