Warren Richardson is an environmental health specialist for the Durham County Department of Public Health, Environmental Health Division. He has an extensive background in environmental health, although he did not begin his career in the field. Warren earned an architectural engineering degree from NC A&T with a focus on environmental conditions in buildings, such as heating, plumbing, and other building mechanics.
Upon earning his degree, Warren was accepted into a graduate training program with Bethlehem Steel Corporation, to train in management while working in the coal miner division in West Virginia. Soon after, he was transferred to the company’s corporate office in Pennsylvania and began working in steel design.
During the steel crisis in the early 1980’s, steel companies began downsizing and closing, so Warren and his family moved to North Carolina where he began his career in environmental health with Union County. He soon transferred to the Rockingham County Division of Public Health and was introduced to plan review.
In 1988 he was hired by the state for a plan review position and in 1995 he became a regional lead specialist so he could work closer to his family. Warren retired from the state in September of 2015 and five months later was hired by the Durham County Department of Public Health.
Warren is now the lead investigation contact and he conducts inspections of childcare centers, restaurants, hotels, and residential care facilities. He also trains new employees on childcare sanitation rules and lead investigations. In addition, Warren sits on a committee that is working to enact ordinances that deal with lead poisoning and remediation for local children and families.
Reflecting on the most exciting aspect of being an environmental health specialist, Warren explains that he enjoys talking with parents about environmental issues that can impact their child’s health. He says, “When I conduct a lead investigation, I don’t just look at lead, I also look at other issues, such as chemical storage and insect control.”
Warren continues, “The thing for me is that I like to help people, so I don’t have to tell them I’m a regulator, I can show them the need for compliance and eventually they want to comply for the health and safety of their kids.”
When Healthy Homes came to the forefront, instead of focusing solely on lead, Warren became healthy homes certified and it helped him look at things more closely related to his architectural engineering degree. He was concerned to learn that there housing issues that can impact a child’s health, in additional to lead poisoning, but he appreciates the emphasis on education for parents about these issues. Furthermore, he says that the Lead and Healthy Homes Task Force has given him more opportunities to learn about approaches other programs are using to make safer environments for children.
Unfortunately, families aren’t always receptive to the education Warren provides and sometimes they are lacking the economic conditions needed to make his suggested adjustments. For Warren, the most difficult situations are the ones in which he can’t direct the family to a resource for assistance, especially when dealing with children.
He says, “I help to the best of my ability, but I can’t take it personally, so I do what I can and then I move forward”.