Environmental health crisis may loom on horizon

By Lauren Laws

Next year, the state’s food may not have proper safety inspectors. Neither will water wells, waste disposal or other sectors of environmental health.

After Dec. 31, Illinois state law may no longer require environmental health practitioners to have a license to practice.

This is the scenario unless the Illinois House of Representatives passes a bill that extends the expiration date for the Environmental Health Practitioner Licensing Act.

The Illinois Association of Public Health Administrators are concerned with this possibility.

“It’s reasonable for citizens to have competent people (in these positions),” said Greg Chance, legislative chair. “I believe (the bill) is caught up in the political dynamic in Springfield. There’s not enough support.”

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If passed, the bill extends the expiration date for another 10 years.

It originally passed the House, but the Senate added two amendments in May.

Wil Hayes, past president of the Illinois Environmental Health Association, said that while one of the amendments didn’t change the meaning, the other would allow practitioners to re-apply for their licenses within five years of it expiring without re-examination.

The House has yet to reconsider the bill and with only one legislative session left in the year, time is running out for a renewal date.

“We support the amendments,” Chance said. “The state of Illinois would take a step backwards in public health (without this).”

Some are concerned for what this could mean for Illinois.

“This affects job descriptions which make sure there are professional standards,” said Jim Roberts, director of environmental health for Champaign-Urbana health district.

The Environmental Health Practitioner Licensing Act requires practitioners to have 30 semester hours in science and at least one year of experience in environmental health.

Practitioners must also pass an exam to become fully licensed.

However, people who graduate with a degree in environmental health can take the exam without having a year of experience.

Also, individuals without an academic background in the area can become environmental health practitioners in training if they have a large amount of experience.

Yet without the act’s renewal, these requirements will be null in void.

Some are disturbed about the lack of information on the situation.

Roberts believes that health boards could help the process along by sending letters of support to local legislature members.

However, there is hope in case the House doesn’t pass the current bill.