The Environmental Health Branch works closely with public health units and other government agencies including NSW Environmental Protection Authority, NSW Planning and Infrastructure and water utilities to assess and manage human health risks associated with environmental exposures.
In 2013 the Environmental Health Branch’s Water Unit worked closely with local Public Health Units to:
NSW Health, in partnership with other state and Commonwealth agencies, has been delivering Housing for Health projects in the Aboriginal community housing sector across NSW since 1998.
Housing for Health aims to test and repair or replace health hardware so houses are safe and the occupants have the ability to carry out healthy living practices. The Housing for Health program is based on evidence that improving house function and essential health hardware (e.g. fixing a leaking toilet, electrical repairs, having sufficient hot water, having somewhere to wash a young child) can lead to improvements in the health of tenants, in particular children aged 0-5 years, and reduces the risk of disease and injury. A 10-year evaluation of the Housing for Health program in 2010 demonstrated a 40% reduction in hospitalisations for infectious diseases for people living in houses that received Housing for Health, compared with the rest of the rural NSW Aboriginal population.
In 2013 there were:
The Aboriginal Environmental Health Unit has been working with the Aboriginal Housing Office on Integrated Housing for Health Projects. The collaborative partnership ensures that tenants receive the benefits of combining the surveys and urgent repairs undertaken by Housing for Health with the extensive repairs and maintenance works carried out by the Aboriginal Housing Office with a focus on addressing key problems that can compromise health. Seven integrated projects were underway at Cudjallagong, Murrin Bridge, Armidale, Batemans Bay, Bodalla, Wallaga Lake and Toomelah-Boggabilla.
In addition to the Housing for Health Program, ‘value-adding’ projects were completed by Public Health Units including: community clean-up projects in Toomelah and Purfleet/Taree; energy audit projects in Muli Muli and Bellbrook; children playground audits in Bowraville, Coffs Harbour, Bellbrook and Kempsey; and a sewerage mapping project in Murrin Bridge.
The NSW Aboriginal Communities Water and Sewerage Program is a joint partnership between the NSW Government and the NSW Aboriginal Land Council. It aims to ensure adequate operation, maintenance and monitoring of water supplies and sewerage systems in more than 60 Aboriginal communities in NSW. NSW Health is involved in the development and roll-out of the Program across the state. Regional Public Health Units worked with communities, the NSW Office of Water, local water utilities and service providers to implement Risk-Based Water and Sewerage Management Plans and participating in review meetings with communities.
In 2013, 61 Aboriginal communities met the criteria and were eligible for funding under this program. Of those 61 communities:
The NSW Aboriginal Environmental Health Officer Training Program aims to address a labour shortage in the environmental health workforce and to develop an Aboriginal workforce with the leadership and technical skills to progress environmental health issues into the future. The Aboriginal Environmental Health Unit manages and administers the Training Program.
Asbestos is a naturally occurring fibrous mineral that was used in the manufacture of a number of building products until 2003 when all uses were prohibited in Australia. It is a well-known carcinogenic substance causing diseases such as lung cancer and mesothelioma. For several years, potential health impacts from asbestos have been a priority both at State and Federal level. NSW Health has been promoting the safe handling of asbestos and helping to prevent risk of exposure to asbestos-related diseases in the NSW community through its membership on the Heads of Asbestos Coordination Authority (HACA). This interagency group has developed several programs to address challenges posed by asbestos which include a state-wide plan for asbestos, a model asbestos policy for local councils and a comprehensive public awareness campaign. Key activities included a purpose-built house to educate the Australian community about asbestos in and around the home; asbestos awareness month and a blue lamington drive to raise funds for asbestos research. Through HACA membership, NSW Health also contributes to national policy on asbestos.
In 2013, NSW experienced its warmest year on record, with September and January being particularly hot. Many records were broken across the state, including the hottest day on record for Sydney (Observatory Hill weather station) on 18 January with 45.8 degrees Celsius. NSW Health worked with the NSW Police Force and the NSW Ambulance Service to provide advice to the community and the NSW Health’s “Beat the Heat” information website was accessed more than 30,000 times.
To ensure Beat the Heat information is available to all who need it, the Beat the Heat booklet ‘How to keep someone healthy during hot weather’ has now been printed in six different languages (Arabic, Simplified Chinese, Traditional Chinese, Italian, Korean and Vietnamese). The booklet was widely distributed at multicultural festivals and advertised through media channels by the Multicultural Health Communication Service (MHCS). Beat the Heat resources (including those in foreign languages) are available at Beat the Heat.
The NSW Arbovirus Surveillance Program tested mosquitos for alphaviruses (Barmah Forest, Ross River and Sindbis virus) and flaviviruses (Alfuy, Edge Hill, Kokobera and Stratford) and chickens for antibody seroconversion to Murray Valley encephalitis virus and Kunjin from November 2012 to April 2013. Mosquitos were trapped at 21 coastal, inland and metropolitan locations and chicken flocks were located at 11 sites in inland NSW.
During the 2012–2013 season, inland areas received average rainfall and has saw moderate to high mosquito numbers with two arboviral isolates. There were no MVEV or KUNV seroconversions in sentinel chickens. Coastal areas experienced heavy precipitation during first three months of 2013, but vector numbers were low and there was low alpha virus activity with 17 isolates. The Sydney metropolitan area had high vector abundance and high arboviral activity (20 isolates of alphaviruses).
In addition, during this season several new viruses were identified, including Liao Ning virus (previously only detected in China), Beaumont, North Creek, Murrumbidgee and Salt Ash viruses (named after the location of isolation). At present, it is not known whether any of these viruses have any human or animal health implications.
Further, new methodologies to increase the sensitivity of the surveillance system were trialled. This included rapid molecular-based virus identification and passive mosquito trap system.
A state-wide media release in December 2012, warned about the increased risk of mosquito-borne infections and how to prevent them. This was supplemented by the information on the Ministry of Health website; guiding principles for environmental health officers, distribution of “Fight the Bite” posters and brochures, radio advertising and a range of local media messaging by public health officials.
For more information see: The NSW Arbovirus Surveillance and Mosquito Monitoring Program.
On 20 September 2013, NSW Health and NSW Office of Environment and Heritage released the results of the Upper Hunter Fine Particle Characterisation Study.
The study, undertaken by the CSIRO and the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation, looked at the composition of PM2.5 particles – particulate matter with a diameter of less than 2.5 micrometres – in the two main Upper Hunter towns of Singleton and Muswellbrook. The aim of the study was to provide the public and the NSW Government with a better understanding of the major sources contributing to the airborne fine particles that the residents of Muswellbrook and Singleton are exposed to.
The study focused on PM2.5 particles. By understanding the sources of PM2.5 that contribute most to human exposure, the government, industry and communities can make informed decisions about how best to reduce this particle pollution in a way that will provide the greatest health benefit for the community.
The results from this study showed considerable seasonal variation in fine particle composition. Woodsmoke dominates at both sites during the winter, while particles associated with regional sources of sulfur dioxide make higher contributions during summer months.
The study findings add to the evidence base that informs actions under the NSW Environment Protection Authority’s Upper Hunter Air Particles Action Plan which outlines a range of measures that are either in place or being developed to improve air quality in the Upper Hunter.
The study report is available at Upper Hunter Fine Particle Characterisation Study.