Friday, March 25, 2011
When my children were young, they and their playmates would often ask me what I did at work all day. Each time I answered, I would feel a twinge of guilt and pain as I hid my true identity from them. “I go to meetings,” I would say. Better for them to think I was a mild-mannered, somewhat cowardly bureaucrat than for them to know the terrible truth.
I fight poop.
As hard as it may be to believe in this scientific day and age, we are surrounded by poop and poop-wielding fiends and foods. There is chicken poop on egg shells and in cookie dough; cow poop in ground beef and on lettuce, broccoli and alfalfa sprouts; and sometimes, there is even human poop in our hamburgers, salads or water. My job, when I’m not in meetings, is to find and destroy that poop before it is eaten or drunk by our citizens, and for sure before it reaches me.
Superman had Lex Luthor and General Zod. I, too, have enemies. Some of my enemies dump their sewage directly into our streams and rivers. Some build their septic tanks with inferior materials, or site them too close to wells or springs. Some forget to wash their hands after pooping, or don’t believe they need to take the time to wash them thoroughly. Little do they realize that they are the most likely victims of their own crimes.
Like Superman, I, too, have special powers (granted by the Colorado Legislature, the Jefferson County Board of Commissioners and the Jefferson County Board of Health). I can require builders and homeowners to use approved materials when building and repairing onsite wastewater (septic) treatment systems (OWTS). I can require well-drillers and landowners to keep their wells and their septic systems far away from each other, and I can require that these systems be inspected as to their installation and operational status before being transferred to a new homeowner. And I have a legion of inspectors (two) on my team who make sure these requirements are being followed.
I also have an army of restaurant inspectors (six) working with me who make sure that the almost 2,000 food establishment owners in Jefferson County are keeping their employees under surveillance to guarantee that they are washing their hands with hot soapy water before handling food and after using the rest room; that they are keeping raw meat, poultry, seafood and their juices away from ready-to-eat foods; and that they are heating and freezing potential poop-carrying foods by cooking them at the proper temperatures and refrigerating foods promptly at adequately low temperatures.
But my greatest weapon is education.
As you can see from the size of my army of inspectors, there is no way that I can guarantee that all septic systems are sited and built correctly, or that all food establishments are on guard every minute of every day watching out for the poop-carrying employee who forget to wash his or her hands. So we spend a great deal of time educating builders, well-drillers, homeowners, school children, food establishment managers and food handlers about the dangers of poop, the devious ways it sneaks onto our hands and into our guts, and the steps that must be taken to defeat it before it spreads. We also teach about and recommend immunizations, like the hepatitis A vaccine, so that the poop that might sneak through our defenses is less dangerous to us.
However, just like Superman, my special powers are not limitless. Poop is my kryptonite. I can’t get into every kitchen and rest room in the county to make sure our recommendations are being followed and that poop is being destroyed before it gets loose. I can’t make the general public or food-handlers get immunized against hepatitis A. I can’t inspect the food that is coming into the county to make sure it has been properly grown and cleaned. And I can’t make you wash your hands.
The life of a super-hero can be very lonely and discouraging (I’ll bet), and every time I think about the challenges and obstacles that are out there fighting back against our efforts to keep the citizens of and visitors to Jefferson County from getting sick I find myself using the worst swear word known to public health professionals – “Poop!”