It is amazing how quickly this summer has gone by and that I am more than half way done interning with the Boston Public Health Commission. BPHC’s inspections of Boston public schools is completed for now, so I have been shadowing health inspectors as they conduct inspections in small businesses such as nail and hair salons. I also went to an emergency health hazard call at a restaurant in Mattapan where a sewage pipe burst in the basement of the building complex, which also affected a neighboring barbershop. The restaurant’s permit for operation was suspended until the matter was cleared up and they passed a follow-up inspection. I still find it interesting to observe the protocol for each inspection, in different types of businesses, that the commission deals with on a day-to-day basis.
In addition to shadowing these inspections, a majority of my work this month was directed towards finding an affordable ventilation system for nail salons that meets the new regulation standards. Recent regulations put into effect by the commission regarding ventilation in nail salons include an increased outdoor airflow rate and the banning of recycled air within the salons. These requirements follow those set forth by the International Mechanical Code of 2009 http://publicecodes.cyberregs.com/icod/imc/2009/icod_imc_2009_4_par015.htmand must be fulfilled by October of this year. Most of the salons will have trouble meeting this deadline for financial reasons, as existing ventilation systems that fulfill the requirements are pricey.
Finding appropriate ventilation for the salons is difficult as well because specific requirements pose different challenges. For example, the zero percent recycled air requirement will make it hard for salons to retain heat in the winter and air conditioning in the summer, so a system that can fulfill the need of exhausting air without losing heat is ideal, but expensive. This is why the commission is working with students at Wentworth Institute of Technology on developing an affordable system. I was tasked with trying to find a mechanical engineer who was familiar with the International Mechanical Code of 2009 and was interested in partnering with the Wentworth students on developing a system. However, none so far have shown a strong interest because the scope of the project is daunting, or because they are unfamiliar with the needs of the nail salons.
Lastly, I have continued to do educational outreach with nail salons and auto body shops through the commission’s Green and Clean program http://www.bphc.org/whatwedo/healthy-homes-environment/green-and-clean/Pages/Green-and-Clean.aspx. This involves going out to new auto body shops throughout Boston to inform them about the program and its benefits, such as free advertising of your business on the commission’s website as being a “green” business. If a business decides to sign on, then a follow-up walk through is conducted and if enough points are earned, then the business passes. For auto body shops, points can be made for initiatives like recycling oil or windshield glass, in addition to using a water based primer instead of an oil based one. Overall, my experience with the commission continues to be personally fulfilling as I feel that I am directly impacting the improvement of public health within the city of Boston, which is a fantastic feeling at the end of each day. I look forward to seeing what project I get involved in next.
To the left is a picture of a typical flammable storage container and it is required that all flammable or volatile chemicals be stored within one, such as the acetone seen in the picture in a nail salon.
To the right is a paint spraying room in an auto body shop. One of the point based initiatives in the Green and Clean program is that all paint spraying conducted in an auto body shop must take place in one of these regulation spraying rooms with proper ventilation.
I am interning with the Boston Public Health Commission, the nation’s oldest health department, which operates as an independent public agency providing a broad range of health programs and services. Public service and access to quality healthcare are the foundations of their mission, which is to protect, promote, and preserve the health and well-being of all Boston residents, particularly the most vulnerable. The Commission oversees about 1,200 employees and maintains its mission through more than 40 programs grouped into six bureaus: Child, Adolescent & Family Health; Community Health Initiatives; Homeless Services; Infectious Disease; Addictions Prevention, Treatment & Recovery Support Services; and Emergency Medical Services. I work under the Environmental Health Division within the Infectious Disease Bureau. My responsibilities as an intern this summer are most heavily focused on the Environmental Health Division’s Safe Shops program as part of their Healthy Homes and Environment initiative.
I first encountered the Boston Public Health Commission through the Health and Justice, Justice Brandeis Semester (JBS) this past fall. I shadowed health inspectors in nail salons and attended the Commission’s Healthy Cosmetology Committee meetings to discuss recent regulations being passed regarding the salons. I quickly grew an interest in their mission to improve public health within Boston as it very much related to the work I was doing in JBS and decided to contact my current supervisor to negotiate my spring internship. The work we completed in our JBS resulted in the completion of an indoor air quality study within several nail salons throughout Boston to measure levels of toxic volatile organic compounds such as formaldehyde and toluene. Beginning my internship and continuing it over the summer was therefore a very natural transition from JBS, as I am conducting indoor air quality testing and educational outreach with several of the same nail salons.
Although I am acquainted with my workplace through my spring internship, this first week was still very much a new experience. I think that the most profound difference between the summer and spring was not having fellow Brandeis students working with me. This change initially seemed like a negative one as each day felt extremely long – alone in my cubical or in the field by myself – as I had no one to talk to at work besides the occasional questions I would ask my supervisor. However, I now view it as a positive one, as it has forced me not only to reach out and talk to people around the office, but it also drove me to put myself out there and show initiative. For instance, I became friendly with the woman that sits next to me through frequent conversation and now asked her if I could shadow her on a lead based paint inspection in two weeks, which I am excited to attend. I also got to go on two indoor air quality inspections in a middle school in Dorchester and another in Brighton, to measure levels of carbon dioxide, volatile organic compounds, and particulate matter.
The bulk of the work I completed this week was directed at the creation of a price comparison sheet to compare the prices of various paper products like toilet paper through a sampling of prices from different stores such as Shaw’s Supermarket and Whole Foods in order to show small businesses that “greener” recycled products are often not much more expensive than mainstream brands and sometimes even cheaper.
I have high expectations for my internship this summer and plan to go on several more health inspections, dealing with a range of environmental hazards from asbestos to measuring levels of volatile organic compounds within auto body shops. Furthermore, I expect to gain further insight into the public health regulatory process, learning not only how and why these regulations are coming into existence, but also how they can effectively be enforced.