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Member Spotlight: Kavita Dorai, MS, REHS

March 2023

The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA) is shining a spotlight on the people within our membership through this new feature in the Journal and on our website.

This month we are pleased to introduce you to Kavita Dorai, an investigator at the California Department of Public Health for 12 years. She investigates complaints and reports of abuse, neglect, misappropriation, and other types of unprofessional conduct against certified healthcare professionals. If an allegation is substantiated, she makes recommendations to take disciplinary action against their application or certification. Dorai has been in the environmental health profession for 16 years. She holds a Registered Environmental Health Specialist (REHS) credential, an American Society for Quality Six Sigma Green Belt, and a certificate in multimedia. Dorai attended Bangalor University in Karnataka, India.

Why did you join NEHA and what aspects of membership have you found most valuable to your career?

As an environmental health practitioner, NEHA was a logical choice to learn, network, and stay current. I heard NEHA’s workshops were terrific and attended a preconference workshop on foodborne illness investigations in Albuquerque, New Mexico. It was put to good use right away in a foodborne illness investigation that involved a group of nine environmental lawyers who got food poisoning.

Over the years, I have returned to NEHA for its continuing education credits. The online education portal is amazing. It allows you to quickly access the latest information or take in a series of lessons on a particular topic.

About 2 years ago I wondered if there was a way to simplify the subject matter for the broader public and present it in a creative way. It would reduce ordinary mistakes and avoidable accidents. It is what finally got me restarted with my writing.

Why did you choose the environmental health field?

I have always been a nature lover and after starting school, I volunteered with various nonprofit and nongovernmental organizations for environmental and social justice causes. I started writing a book that I researched for over 3 years, but I got sidetracked. Even then I made time for meaningful assignments such as being a docent at the Stebbins Cold Canyon Preserve and a volunteer at the Pine Hill Preserve. My volunteer work and the training I received were foundational in understanding how our built structure impacts the environment at many levels. During this journey, however, I realized I was still missing a good grasp of the interplay between environmental factors and human health. Preparation for the Registered Environmental Health Specialist (REHS) examination addressed the problem. The courses, workshops, independent study, and on-the-job training gave me the solid foundation I sought.

If you were not an environmental health professional, what other profession would you like to work in?

Writing about environmental health to various audiences. My current focus is on taking the conversation on environmental health to the public. I believe that empowering the public to make better choices will be transformative. For example, socioeconomic and health impacts of climate change are interlinked with environmental health at many levels. To reverse climate change, mitigation must be linked with the adaption of simple strategies in your daily life. To show how it could be done, I wrote a fully illustrated story about what mitigation linked with adaptation looks like.

Describe any hobbies, activities or causes you are passionate about.

I am passionate about environmental health, compassionate toward animals, and love nature. I write, paint, garden, and travel. Before coming to the U.S., I worked for Indian Union Cabinet Minister Maneka Gandhi. She has a nonprofit organization called People For Animals and my work there instilled a deep commitment toward animal welfare and habitat protection.

What is your favorite vacation spot and why?

A sleepy hill station called Kodaikanal in India. It has a misty lake, hidden waterfalls, winding hiking trails, and splendid botanical gardens. It is an endemic region so the flora and fauna are unique. A veritable paradise for naturalists.

What is the one thing most people do not know about you that you are willing to share.

I have written a book called Keshu: Climate Change and a Brave Little Fish. The story is about a little fish’s adventure, survival, and coming of age with a focus on surviving adversity. It is uplifting and introduces concepts of environmental health and collective social responsibility. The book is available through Google Play and Amazon. If you read it, kindly consider posting a review.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

As the energy policy analyst at the California Department of Community Services and Development, I used my knowledge of building science and researched industry trends to conceptualize the design of the Low-Income Weatherization Program for Multifamily Properties (LIWP-Multifamily) for a $24 million budget. I then worked as the LIWP-Multifamily project manager and saw it through its entire life cycle. I implemented the program, developed procurement products, selected vendors, onboarded the contractor, monitored the project pipeline, managed the contract, approved projects and invoices, and measured and verified program outcomes. Most importantly, the entire $24 million was appropriated.

Also, I am proud about my book, Keshu: Climate Change and a Brave Little Fish. I am heartened by the reviews it has received so far.

Whom do you look up to and why?

My mother Savita Sharma. She was a teacher by profession. Everyone fondly called her Painting Aunty and she ran an art school from home for over 40 years. I have seen her teach all types of students and nurture them unconditionally. She was awarded the prestigious Kala Ratna for her lifetime of service to art and for developing a new way of drawing using the English alphabet. She taught me to be resourceful, resilient, compassionate, and how to grow a child’s imagination.

Is there a resource you use frequently for your work that you would recommend for other environmental health professionals?

I have had to use multiple resources for my work to research and verify information quickly.

What is the best professional advice given to you?

A NEHA past president from California encouraged me to join NEHA. She advised me to attend at least a couple of annual conferences and to network. I am so grateful to her for the advice.

Is there anything else that we did not ask that you would like to share?

I would like to share what may be the first poem on environmental health and the REHS Program.

The Invisible Sanitarian
Standing between you and the cutting edge of cross-contamination
Is the invisible sanitarian!
Long hours well spent testing amounts of lead in toys
Or measuring a rollercoaster's noise.
Did that skimmer filter drool in the school pool?
And did the gas station retailer check the ID of those who act so cool?
Is the septic tank set and built right?
Are its seals all nice-n-tight?
Be it household waste disposal or protecting an underground storage tank,
Or keeping our well water sweet and not rank!
These are just a few ways
We bring joy and health to your days.
Come, become a sanitarian!
A world of environmental solutions you’ll enter.
Yes, it’s government quietly at work
Keeping your well-being front and center.