Environmental Health

SJBPH’s Environmental Health (EH) team protects the health of the public and the environment. In Archuleta, La Plata, and San Juan Counties, EH:

  • licenses and inspects retail food vendors to prevent the spread of food-borne illness
  • inspects child care facilities to ensure healthy surroundings for our youngsters
  • regulates, permits and inspects septic systems to protect water quality in our rivers and aquifers
  • monitors water quality in the Animas River watershed to keep the public safe
  • operates a laboratory offering drinking water and wastewater testing for bacteria

Information on our programs and on several other environmental health concerns can be found in the tabs below.



EH Main Line | 970 335 2052


SJBPH Emergency Preparedness and Response (EPR) can serve as, or support, the Emergency Support Function 8 (Public Health and Medical Services) lead for the county, region, or jurisdiction.

The Environmental Health program is responsible for the inspection of all restaurants and retail markets in La Plata, Archuleta, and San Juan Counties.

Radon is a naturally occurring invisible, odorless gas that comes from the natural radioactive breakdown of uranium in soil, rocks, and water. Due to the geology of southwest Colorado, homes in this area have higher levels of radon than the national average. About 49 percent of homes in La Plata County, for example, have unhealthy radon levels (higher than 4 pCi/L). Radon exposure is the nation’s second-leading cause of lung cancer. Every year, over 20,000 people in the United States die from lung cancer caused by radon.

Radon enters homes and businesses through cracks and gaps in the foundation. Testing the radon level in your home or business is easy; short-term test kits are available for less than $35 and are easy to set up on your own. Reducing the level of radon can be done through professional repairs with a certified radon mitigation contractor.

San Juan Basin Public Health and Colorado State University Extension will be offering radon education workshops throughout the winter of 2017-2018 for home and business owners interested in reducing their exposure to radon. Attending a workshop gets you a free short-term radon testing kit you can set up yourself.

Pagosa Springs

  • Saturday, Feb. 10 at 10 a.m.  |  Archuleta County Extension Office, 344 Hwy 84

Classes in Durango, Bayfield, Ignacio, Cortez, Mancos and Silverton to be scheduled.

Please RSVP for a workshop by contacting Wendy Rice, RD MEd., at 970-382-6461 or wendy.rice@colostate.edu.

SJBPH’s Environmental Health (EH) program is the regulatory authority for on-site wastewater treatment system (OWTS) permitting in Archuleta, La Plata, and San Juan counties.

SJBPH’s Water Lab provides water testing for La Plata County residents. Water Bacteriology testing determines the absence or presence of Total Coliform and E.Coli bacteria.

SJBPH’s Surface and Drinking Water program provides surveillance of ground water and surface water conditions in La Plata County and San Juan County.

Air quality in Colorado is monitored and regulated by the Colorado Air Pollution Control Division (APCD). APCD publishes monitoring data on their website, and publishes a current Colorado Smoke Outlook that includes advisories for wildfire smoke.

All persons conducting open burning operations, other than agricultural burning for soil preparation, weed control, or maintenance of ditches and other water structures, must first obtain an open burning permit from the State of Colorado and inform the local fire department. The state open burn permit application may be found here. Piles to be burnt must be small enough to be out cold by sunset, or 8 cubic feet.

Campfires, non-commercial cooking fires, and agricultural burning do not need an open burn permit, but any of these may be restricted by our county governments or fire protection districts. Check with Archuleta, La Plata, or San Juan County for more information on current fire restrictions.

Healthy swimming behaviors are important in preventing illness. Outbreaks of recreational water illnesses continue to occur in the U.S. each year. Sixty-two percent of these outbreaks are related to the chlorine-resistant pathogen, Cryptosporidium, (“Crypto”) which is introduced into the pool by swimmers who are ill with diarrhea. Crypto can be spread by swallowing recreational water contaminated with Crypto, by putting something in your mouth or swallowing something (such as food) that has come in contact the germ, or by swallowing Crypto picked up from surfaces (such as lounge chairs, picnic tables, bathroom fixtures, changing tables) contaminated with feces from an infected person. Swallowing even a small amount of pool water that has been contaminated with the Crypto germ can make you sick. Although Crypto can infect all people, young children, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems are at risk for more serious disease.

San Juan Basin Public Health relies on a complaint-based system to monitor the public aquatic facility inspections in La Plata and Archuleta counties. Contact your healthcare provider if you suspect you have Crypto. Anyone with diarrheal illness should refrain from swimming and if diagnosed with Crypto, wait at least two weeks after symptoms have resolved to swim.

Promote Healthy Swimming

Specific actions you can take to promote healthy swimming include:

  • Do not swim when you have diarrhea.
  • Do not swallow pool water or get pool water in your mouth.
  • Shower before swimming (children too!).
  • Wash your hands after using the toilet or changing diapers.
  • Take children on bathroom breaks or change diapers often.
  • Change children’s diapers in a bathroom, not at poolside.

Crypto outbreaks underscore the continuing need to educate people about recreational water illness prevention to ensure a healthy swimming experience. For more information visit the Centers for Disease Control Healthy Swimming/Recreational Water webpage or download the CDC Healthy Swimming brochure (PDF).

Tattoos and piercings should be done by professionals. Choose an artist who is experienced and willing to answer any and all questions prior to your appointment. San Juan Basin Public Health conducts facility investigations to ensure safe and sanitary practice, physical environment, and equipment following any reports of disease or complaints.

Talk to your artist about what to expect after getting a tattoo or piercing. Although some swelling around the tattoo or piercing is normal, you should talk to your tattoo or piercing professional and to your health care provider if you have any of the following signs of infection:

  • Thick yellow or green discharge coming from the area
  • Continued oozing or bleeding
  • Red streaks or a hot sensation moving away from the area
  • Pain that continues or gets worse
  • Any unusual pain or swelling

Tattoo artists and piercers are at risk of coming in contact with their client’s blood. This means artists may also be exposed to a bloodborne pathogen, such as hepatitis B virus, hepatitis C virus or Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV). These viruses can be dangerous. For more information on protecting yourself, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website on body art.

Minimum health and sanitation requirements for operation and maintenance are established and regulated by the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) and San Juan Basin Public Health.

At this time neither the State of Colorado nor San Juan Basin Public Health have any laws or regulations related to minimum habitability standards for private homes or rental properties in regards to mold.  Also, there are no regulations, even at the federal level, related to indoor air quality. Since there are no laws or regulations to go by, the SJBPH has no authority in cases of a property or renter/landlord disputes.

In some cases it may be necessary for tenants to utilize the services of a private attorney to resolve housing issues. Colorado Legal Services may be able to help.

Mold Health Effects

Mold (or mildew) is the common name for fungi in the indoor environment, although molds are found everywhere in both the indoor and outdoor environment. The vast majority of the time, they are found in association with decaying organic materials, such as leaves and foods. Molds help break down organic materials so they can be recycled and reused by other living things.

Mold and bacteria can be found practically anywhere on earth. Because mold is everywhere, most building materials already have mold spores on them. This is why when building materials like drywall, wood products, or paper become wet and are not dried within 48 hours, they grow mold.  The best line of defense against mold is to limit the amount of time mold has to grow by drying your building materials as soon as possible. The rule of thumb is if you can’t quickly dry materials like drywall, rugs, and wooden sub-floors, you should remove or dispose of them to eliminate mold growth.

For Healthy People

For the majority of healthy people, mold exposure will only cause a mild allergic response, such as cough, runny nose, and eye irritation (hay fever or allergic rhinitis).

For People with Asthma (Heightened Allergic Response) or Other Chronic Lung Disease

Mold exposure can be a significant problem causing an increase in the severity of lung symptoms for people with chronic lung disease.

For People with Impaired Immune Systems

For children younger than two years old, the elderly, those taking long-term steroid drugs, those suffering from HIV, and those who have a compromised immune system, mold exposure can cause life-threatening infections. Special attention should be taken to prevent and remove mold growth around these groups of people.

The Black Mold Myth

Black mold, or Stachybotrys Chartarum, is a greenish-black mold that typically grows on high cellulose and low nitrogen materials like fiberboard, paper, dust, and lint. Black mold needs constant moisture for growth. While black mold was originally reported to cause lung and neurological problems, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now states there is no link between mold and other adverse health effects, such as acute idiopathic pulmonary hemorrhage among infants, memory loss, or lethargy.  Black mold should be cleaned and the area repaired.

Need an appointment with an Environmental Health Specialist?

Same- or next-day appointments are available.

Do you have an environmental health concern?

Submit an environmental community health concern.