Community

Jim Austin-protecting environmental health

Jim Austin

 

Protecting Montrose County from potential public health problems keeps Environmental Health Director Jim Austin and his team pretty busy.

“There are two inspectors who work for me, one part-time and one full- time,” Austin told a recent meeting of The Forum at Heidi’s Deli.

The majority of their work involves inspecting Montrose County’s 235 retail food establishments, including restaurants, coffee shops, and grocery stores. As for the frequency of inspections, Austin said, “There are a couple of models that the state health department accepts. One is based on the complexity of the menu, so a full-service restaurant would get more attention than, say, a coffee shop.”

Montrose County’s standards require each retail establishment to be inspected at least twice a year. “Under the state scheme, some low-risk operations can be seen only once every two years,” Austin explained. “My experience tells me that you really feel your relationship with operators slipping away if you drop in once every two years. That’s not much oversight. So, in Montrose, we see everyone at least twice a year; if re-inspections are needed, then it’s more than twice a year. For example, if you follow up on a problem, and you correct it, we would conduct a re-inspection.”

A new federal food regulation will take effect on Jan. 1, 2019. “The U.S. Food and Drug Administration publishes what they call a “model food code”. It’s revised every four years. It’s not a law, and it doesn’t pre-empt state regulations, but it’s offered as a model for states to adopt, to create science-based standards that are uniform across the country.” He says chain restaurants that operate around the country are particularly supportive of this idea because it makes it easier for them to do business.

“In Colorado, we’ve had sort of a hybrid code between our old code and the FDA’s. But, that’s going to change.” The state has adopted the most recent version of the federal model food code, which will be applied in every Colorado county, except for the city and county of Denver, which has its own code that is already very close to the FDA version. Austin believes the FDA code will be more flexible and efficient than Colorado’s current system.

“We also inspect the schools and child care centers in the county,” Austin said.

Austin and his team do annual inspections of Montrose County four “body art” shops. “Actually, we have very few problems with those operators,” he said.

More importantly, the department also does annual inspections of 11 septic pumpers and haulers. “The biggest concerns are making sure the trucks don’t leak, and that the septage is disposed of properly,” he said. The stuff must be disposed of at an approved waste water treatment facility, such as CB Industries, in Delta, the West Montrose Sanitation District, or the Town of Telluride. However, there are exceptions made for two companies that are licensed to apply septage to land. “There are safeguards built in for those doing it. They have to submit their records, and there are now no problems with land application.

“Several years ago, there were calls about improper, or questionable, dumping of raw sewage. That is one of the easiest, most obvious, and egregious violations you can imagine,” Austin said emphatically. “But in the last couple of years, we’ve gotten a better handle on this, with much better communication with our haulers. To their credit, we’ve had no complaints at all in the last few years.”

Bedbugs and mold are two common problems that Austin’s department is frequently notified of, but can’t handle directly. He said that bedbugs are definitely disgusting, but aren’t a public health problem because they don’t transmit diseases to humans. His department often advises victims to contact legal aid, since bedbugs are frequently part of a landlord-tenant dispute.

Mold, on the other hand, can lead to health problems, but Montrose County doesn’t have the proper testing equipment, which is very expensive. And, the state hasn’t set official standards to determine at what level mold becomes a hazard. “You’ve got to control the moisture in your home. You’ve got to fix your plumbing leaks. You may have some carpet, or drywall, that needs to be replaced.”

You’ll find more information about Montrose County Environmental Health services at http://www.montrosecounty.net/115/Environmental-Health. You can also contact director Jim Austin at 970-252-5000, or visit the office at 1845 S. Townsend Ave., in Montrose.

Austin encourages people not to worry about “bothering” him. “I get paid to be bothered,” he said with a smile.

Keeping environmental health problems to a minimum in Montrose
By Dave Segal

Protecting Montrose County residents safe from potential public health problems keeps Environmental Health Director Jim Austin and his team pretty busy.

“There are two inspectors who work for me, one part time and one full time,” Austin told a recent meeting of The Forum at Heidi’s Deli.

The majority of their work involves inspecting Montrose County’s 235 retail food establishments, including restaurants, coffee shops, and grocery stores. As for the frequency of inspections, Austin said, “There are a couple of models that the state health department accepts. One is based on the complexity of the menu, so a full-service restaurant would get more attention than, say, a coffee shop.”

Montrose County’s standards require each retail establishment to be inspected at least twice a year. “Under the state scheme, some low-risk operations can be seen only once every two years,” Austin explained. “My experience tells me that you really feel your relationship with operators slipping away if you drop in once every two years. That’s not much oversight. So, in Montrose, we see everyone at least twice a year; if re-inspections are needed, then it’s more than twice a year. For example, if you follow up on a problem, and you correct it, we would conduct a re-inspection.”

A new federal food regulation will take effect on Jan. 1, 2019. “THe U.S. Food and Drug Administration publishes what they call a “model food code”. It’s revised every four years. It’s not a law, and it doesn’t pre-empt state regulations, but it’s offered as a model for states to adopt, to create science-based standards that are uniform across the country.” He says chain restaurants that operate around the country are particularly supportive of this idea because it makes it easier for them to do business.

“In Colorado, we’ve had sort of a hybrid code between our old code and the FDA’s. But, that’s going to change.” The state has adopted the most recent version of the federal model food code, which will be applied in every Colorado county, except for the city and county of Denver, which has its own code that is already very close to the FDA version. Austin believes the FDA code will be more flexible and efficient than Colorado’s current system.

“We also inspect the schools and child care centers in the county,” Austin said.

Austin and his team also do annual inspections of Montrose County four “body art” shops. “Actually, we have very few problems with those operators,” he said.

More importantly, the department also does annual inspections of 11 septic pumpers and haulers. “The biggest concerns are making sure the trucks don’t leak, and that the septage is disposed of properly,” he said. The stuff must be disposed of at an approved waste water treatment facility, such as CB Industries, in Delta, the West Montrose Sanitation District, or the Town of Telluride. However, there are exceptions made for two companies that are licensed to apply septage to land. “There are safeguards built in for those doing it. They have to submit their records, and there are now no problems with land application.

“Several years ago, there were calls about improper, or questionable, dumping of raw sewage. That is one of the easiest, most obvious, and egregious violations you can imagine,” Austin said emphatically. “But in the last couple of years, we’ve gotten a better handle on this, with much better communication with our haulers. To their credit, we’ve had no complaints at all in the last few years.”

Bedbugs and mold are two common problems that Austin’s department is frequently notified of, but can’t handle directly. He said that bedbugs are definitely disgusting, but aren’t a public health problem because they don’t transmit diseases to humans. His department often advises victims to contact legal aid, since bedbugs are frequently part of a landlord-tenant dispute.

Mold, on the other hand, can lead to health problems, but Montrose County doesn’t have the proper testing equipment, which is very expensive. And, the state hasn’t set official standards to determine at what level mold becomes a hazard. “You’ve got to control the moisture in your home. You’ve got to fix your plumbing leaks. You may have some carpet, or drywall, that needs to be replaced.”

You’ll find more information about Montrose County Environmental Health services at http://www.montrosecounty.net/115/Environmental-Health. You can also contact director Jim Austin at 970-252-5000, or visit the office at 1845 S. Townsend Ave., in Montrose.

Austin encourages people not to worry about “bothering” him. “I get paid to be bothered,” he said with a smile.

About the author

Dave Segal

Dave Segal

Dave Segal, a Detroit native, has been a journalist since 1977. He has worked as a reporter, commentator, and news director at radio stations in Detroit, Denver, and Montrose.

Dave has been writing and editing for the Monitor since its first print issue in 2003. He is editor and senior writer for the digital magazine. On the side, Dave has also done freelance writing, media relations, and a variety of volunteer work.