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Protecting Emmet Co.’s air and water

County loses Environmental Health specialist, looks for best option for future of air and water quality

By Amy H. Peterson - Staff Writer | Sep 17, 2020

Aimee Devereaux’s last day as Emmet County environmental health specialist is October 2. Working through Emmet County Public Health, Devereaux was in charge of numerous responsibilities for Emmet and other counties, including onsite wastewater, private wells, swimming pools, tanning beds, tattoo operators, grants to counties, radon, mold, indoor air and nuisance. Devereaux is certified in HHS – health homes specialist, REHS/RS – registered environmental health specialist/registered sanitarian.

Devereaux was the winner of the Harry Grant Award from the Iowa Dept. of Public Health in 2009, given to individuals who have exemplified superior lifetime performance in environmental health well above and beyond to give service to the public and fellow professionals.

Over the last two Emmet County supervisors meetings, Emmet County supervisors have expressed concern about the county’s ability to attract an employee of Devereaux’s experience and skill. Devereaux began work in Emmet County as a contractor; in July, 2012, the supervisors approved the request of Emmet County Public Health to make her an employee. The job in Emmet County has been billed as part time, with Devereaux working for other counties as well. However, in a joint meeting with the Palo Alto County supervisors Tuesday, the Palo Alto supervisors indicated they could use a full time environmental specialist while Kathy Preston of Emmet County Public Health said with all of Devereaux’s responsibilities, the job could be full time.

Commuting to complete work in multiple counties did not leave Devereaux a lot of time to educate community members on environmental health issues.

The two counties discussed advertising the position as full time for both counties and sharing a specialist similarly to the way the two counties share county engineer Walter Davis-Oeth. Davis-Oeth is an Emmet County employee, and Palo Alto county contributes to his compensation package.

Emmet County supervisors chair John Pluth said, “She has a lot on her plate. I feel we should get somebody local to serve both counties. As far as adding someone in Emmet County full time, we have been trying to get departments to ‘lean down’ expenses, but I also understand we need to provide all of the services needed.”

According to the Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, maintaining a healthy environment is central to increasing quality of life and years of healthy life. Globally, 23% of all deaths among children under age five are due to preventable environmental factors. Poor environmental quality has its greatest impact on people whose health status is already at risk. An environmental health specialist in Emmet County would monitor and help its communities mitigate poor air quality, surface and ground water quality, toxic substances and hazardous wastes, hazards inside homes and workplaces, and assist with the effect of climate change, disaster preparedness, nanotechnology, and blood lead levels.