Environmental Health Innovation Award

Environmental Health Innovation

NEHA Announces Winners of the Environmental Health Innovation Award

The National Environmental Health Association (NEHA), in partnership with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Environmental Health and the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, is pleased to announce the winners of the Environmental Health Innovation Award. This award recognizes environmental health professionals who have used innovative environmental health services or strategies to improve the health and well-being of their communities during the COVID-19 pandemic.

State, tribal, local, and territorial agencies with an environmental health program that developed an innovative EH activity, strategy, or program during COVID-19 were eligible to apply and submissions were evaluated based on how well they achieved the following objectives:

  • Addressed health equity gaps during the response to COVID-19.
  • Enhanced workforce capacity.
  • Reached new populations through virtual or distanced encounters.
  • Developed new strategies that accelerate public health goals.
  • Changed the procedures for inspections, data collection, or other job functions or processes.
  • Created or utilized new systems.
  • Worked with different cross-sector partners within the agency, department, city, or state to accomplish environmental health functions and services.

We thank all who submitted innovations and congratulate the following winners:

Gold Innovation Award Winner

Organization: Louisiana Department of Health
Project: Virtual Asthma Home Visit Program
Submitter: Dr. Runa Bakshi, Section of Environmental Epidemiology and Toxicology Program Monitor

The Louisiana Department of Health (LDH) developed the Bringing Respiratory-Health Equity for Asthmatics Through Healthier Environments (BREATHE) initiative to provide asthma services and connect asthmatics with resources. LDH conducted virtual home visits for asthmatics and partnered with COVID-19 contact tracers to receive referrals of COVID-19 patients affected by asthma.


Silver Innovation Award Winners

Organization: South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control
Project: Food Service Facility Inspections and Lead Risk Assessment
Submitter: Mary Ramirez, Training Coordinator

When stay-at-home orders were first issued, the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) provided lead assessments by phone, conducted virtual home walkthroughs, and coordinated in-person visits when families were out of the home. DHEC also provided virtual food safety checks and limited-scope inspections of food-service facilities.

Organization: Seattle & King County Public Health Department
Project: Homeless Shelter Indoor Air Quality
Submitter: Dr. Shirlee Tan, Toxicologist

Public Health–Seattle & King County used congressional relief funding to procure and distribute nearly 3,000 HEPA air filters to homeless service providers across their jurisdiction. They used an equity tool to determine which homeless facilities were most vulnerable to COVID-19, coordinated with staff and external partners to deliver and install the air filters, and provided ongoing education and support to homeless service providers.


Bronze Innovation Award Winners

Organization: Alexandria Health Department
Project: ALX Promise Program
Submitter: Rachel Stradling, Environmental Health Manager

The ALX Promise program requires participating businesses to comply with executive orders and other COVID-19-related standards set by the Alexandria Health Department (AHD). In exchange, businesses receive a decal they can display in their windows and are recognized on the Visit Alexandria website. AHD enlisted volunteers to go door-to-door to recruit businesses in neighborhoods most affected by COVID-19.


Organization: Boulder County Public Health
Project: Oral Culture Learning Train-the-Trainer Program
Submitter: Shawna Johnson, Food Safety Team Lead

Before COVID-19 hit, Boulder County Public Health (BCPH) developed an Oral Culture Learning food safety training program, which replaced BCPH’s traditional text-based presentations with interactive, image-based classes. After COVID-19 hit, BCPH created a train-the-trainer program that restaurant managers can use to train staff themselves to ensure that staff training is conducted even when inspectors are unable to be on site.


Organization: Oneida Nation of Wisconsin
Project: Safe Business Certification
Submitter: Vanessa Miller, Sanitarian

The Oneida Nation created a process by which businesses could submit a safe reopening plan before being certified to reopen after COVID-19 restrictions were lifted. Health officials established industry-specific guidelines and created an electronic form that businesses could use to submit their plans.

Honorable Mentions

Organization: Colorado Department of Public Health
Project: Virtual Childcare Inspection Program
Submitter: Amy Gammel, Childcare and Schools Program Coordinator

The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment began conducting virtual inspections of childcare facilities as they began to reopen. Inspections were scheduled via email and included a virtual tour of the facility, protecting children and staff from unnecessary visitors.


Organization: Bucks County Department of Corrections
Project: Environmental Health Controls During COVID-19
Submitter: Dr. Robert Powitz, Forensic Sanitarian

The correctional facility in Bucks County implemented COVID-19 screening, isolation of any inmate who exhibited symptoms, improved ventilation, and increased sanitation measures. Due to these efforts, the facility believes that they did not experience a major outbreak during the pandemic.


Organization: Wisconsin Department of Health Services
Project: Remote Lead Risk Assessment Staff Training
Submitter: Christine Lilek, Training Coordinator

The Lead and Asbestos Accreditation Unit of the Wisconsin Department of Health Services began offering virtual refresher courses over Zoom for Lead Paint Risk Assessor certifications. The courses include interactive activities and time to network with other assessors.


Organization: University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire
Project: Wastewater Sampling Program
Submitter: Dr. Crispin Pierce, Professor

Dr. Pierce’s team used 24-hour composite sampling methods to test for COVID-19 RNA in wastewater samples from the Eau Claire wastewater treatment plant, as well as from dormitories and other university buildings.


Organization: Santa Clara County Department of Environmental Health
Project: Virtual Plan Review Program
Submitter: Jonathan Rubingh, Environmental Health Program Manager

The Santa Clara County Department of Environmental Health developed a way for plans of proposed food facilities and swimming pools to be submitted and reviewed electronically using common office software.