Environmental Health Food Safety Public Health Preparedness & Response Public Policy

In response to the State of the Union: What are the labs doing?

2012 State of Union

In his 2012 State of the Union address, President Obama described his vision for improving the economy, increasing employment and protecting the interests of the United States. The President also mentioned that he will continue his support for federal actions that protect children from mercury poisoning, ensure safe food and assure clean water (click here to see the portion of the State of the Union speech where the President says this). The nation’s governmental health laboratories play a critical role in the surveillance and detection of harmful air pollutants like mercury; contaminants like Salmonella in food and pesticide residues that have short and long-term health consequences; and pollutants in drinking water. How exactly?  Governmental health laboratories are:

  • Routinely monitoring food samples at retail stores and in the distribution chain to check for microbial pathogens and pesticide contaminants in a variety of commodities
  • Performing on-going characterization of bacterial isolates from ill people, submitting their fingerprints to the National PulseNet Database at CDC so that cases with indistinguishable patterns can be linked and investigated
  • Implementing the latest laboratory techniques to quickly and accurately confirm diagnoses, serotype isolates, and fully characterize linked  pathogens
  • Partnering with other food safety professionals who analyze laboratory findings, providing critical data to help solve outbreaks, determine root causes of contamination, and assess the impact of industry changes designed to prevent future illnesses
  • Monitoring and detecting environmental threats by conducting testing in people, air, water, soil and more
  • Conducting tests to support enforcement of water, air, food, dairy and environmental safety laws
  • Carrying out research to investigate illness trends and emerging contaminants such as pharmaceuticals
  • Conducting exposure studies to determine if environmental contaminants, such as mercury and lead, are getting into people
  • And responding to natural disasters, suspected terror events and industrial accidents, such as the 2010 Gulf Coast Oil Spill.

Beyond those items mentioned in President Obama’s State of the Union speech, labs are doing so much more:

  • They are detecting disease causing organisms and other harmful substances. The laboratories have innovative scientists that develop new methods to detect and fight infectious diseases, environmental pollutants and toxins. Remember the 2009 H1N1 pandemic? Public health laboratories tested thousands of specimens from patients and quickly provided results on whether or not a patient had H1N1 or some other form of influenza.
  • They are serving as integral members of national networks, such as the CDC’s Laboratory Response Network (LRN) where they prepare for, respond to and recover from all-hazard threats. Think anthrax 2001 – the public health laboratories in the LRN responded, testing thousands of specimens from patients as well as samples collected from the environment, and assuring first responders and the public that it was safe to reopen and enter buildings.
  • And they are providing training and conducting educational outreach to thousands of other laboratories, such as hospitals in their states. The hospitals know where to send potential threat samples and other items for specialized testing.

We are pleased to hear the President support important public health matters in this country. Mr. President, we assure you that laboratories at the state and local levels of government continue to demonstrate their ability to provide accurate and actionable information in all of these areas, and stand ready to continue their operations.



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