What I’ve Learned as a Public Health Student Working at CELA
Blog posted by Adam Clasky, Master in Public Health Practicum Student
Currently enrolled as a Master of Public Health student at McMaster University, I chose to complete my summer practicum with CELA due to its intersection between environmental health and law. So far, my experience has been educational and I’ve cultivated a number of skills that are relevant to public health work. Compared to my training so far, this experience has felt quite different given the focus at CELA on the legislative factors underlying public health decisions and outcomes. However, it will hopefully be very useful in meeting broad and foundational objectives in public health practice of health promotion and disease prevention.
Throughout the summer, I’ve worked on three projects: two pesticides-related and another contributing baseline research about hoarding to the RentSafe initiative.
The pesticides projects have addressed the potential for negative health consequences of both indoor and outdoor pesticide use. In one project I have helped to update CELA’s fact sheet about “Pesticides and Bed Bugs – Information for Tenants in Ontario.” The regulatory status of this class of pesticides – the pyrethrins and pyrethroids – is ongoing but delayed by the pandemic, until 2025. I checked on the regulatory status of each pesticide noting necessary updates for the fact sheet. In the process, I found important shortcomings with information posted to the Pest Management Regulatory Agency (PMRA) Label Search database. CELA has written to the PMRA to point out this problem, the consequence of which is if these older and now illegal labels are followed by users of these pesticides, the result will be health risks in excess of the final re-evaluation decision.
The second pesticides project involves assisting community groups in other provinces with learning from the Ontario experience and creating campaign materials to seek municipal bans on the cosmetic use of pesticides.
These pesticides projects have emphasized a range of research skills including traditional literature searching and navigating government websites. I’ve also worked on varied forms and literacy levels for effective written communications.
Overall, these projects tie into the research, health promotion and knowledge translation sides of public and environmental health. On the knowledge translation side, this work has reinforced my understanding of the importance of accurately conveying health risks in public communications by not over-stating scientific evidence. I’ve also worked on messaging that emphasizes the value of a precautionary approach to avoid risks. For example, bans on cosmetic pesticide use are inherently precautionary as they seek to avoid completely unnecessary exposures. Likewise, the bed bugs fact sheet conveys valuable information about how to choose lower risk options to address this pest problem.
In the work for RentSafe, I’ve supported a new RentSafe working group with meeting logistics and background research about hoarding. Building on the model of the RentSafe mould resources, the working group aims to address this as another priority issue for tenants as identified in the RentSafe baseline survey work, by CELA’s clinic colleagues, and other RentSafe stakeholders in public health and property standards. My research has identified the importance of recognizing mental health aspects of this issue that must be acknowledged in order to lift the stigma behind hoarding behaviour. Furthermore, the relationship between hoarding and mental health has public health implications, as mental health has become a major area of focus in public health. Additionally, I’ve conducted research on the legal aspects of landlord-tenant dynamics and applied them to hoarding situations. According to key statutory documents in Ontario, tenants ought to be treated justly and free from discrimination, and hoarding situations may fall under this umbrella given the mental health factors involved.
I have learned from the RentSafe work that housing for individuals with lower income is often sub-standard and may be more susceptible to indoor pest problems that can result in frequent pesticide use, including misuse/overuse which can lead to excess environmental health risks. CELA has played a central role in RentSafe in bringing these pesticides issues forward. RentSafe has also highlighted the importance of a multi-sectoral approach, indeed a very innovative approach that has included and centred tenants lived experience in the understanding of, and collaboration among, RentSafe participants from public health, property standards, legal clinics, medicine, academe, emergency workers, and more, who all have a vital role to play in addressing healthy housing for tenants.
It has been especially useful to cultivate my public health skills in a legal context, and to see the relationship between law, policy and public health. My impression is that we are most successful in addressing public health issues by employing an upstream approach and emphasizing underlying legislation and policies, as opposed to solely focusing on solutions further downstream. Additionally, all of these projects tie into health promotion, as they focus on the “health literacy” component, serving as a step to empower people in maximizing their health outcomes. I’m grateful to be working at CELA and have garnered useful insight into the legislative aspects of environmental and public health. Whether I work primarily in the public health field or ultimately choose to go into law, this experience will be beneficial as it has focused on relevant factors pertaining to both fields.
Adam Clasky is currently a Master of Public Health Student at McMaster University. His interests lie in environmental health, animal rights and mental health, and he may opt to study law in the future.