Environmental public health specialist enjoys varied tasks of job

As an environmental public health specialist for the Cole County Health Department, Luke Wilbers inspects child care facilities, food establishments and septic system installations.

"I can go from working in a child care facility in the morning to having to put on boots and checking out a lagoon in the afternoon, so I'm always busy," Wilbers said.

At child care and food establishments, Wilbers said they look at how they prepare the meals they serve.

"I'm still the new guy here, but I haven't found something I wouldn't eat when I've done inspections at those businesses," Wilbers laughed. "It's a common misconception that when people see our health department vehicles at a business they automatically think, 'Uh-oh something's wrong.' That's not always the case.

"Most of the time it's just routine inspection to make sure nothing is going wrong. Many of the day cares and food establishments have told me, 'I'm glad you're here and let me know if there's something we need to change."

On permitting of septic systems, Wilbers said installers who can do jobs come to the department and put in an application. The inspection staff looks at the location and setbacks, then works with the installer so they can find solutions if and when they run into a problem.

"It's been an eye opener for me because I found a lot of people didn't know the process to get a proper septic system put in," Wilbers said. "As they get educated about it, the homeowner is a lot happier because the housing market is hot and buyers want a working septic system. So it's good to have the certificate saying you had a system installed properly.

"You're starting to see a lot of these 5- to 6-acre lots being sold as people want to live in the rural areas," Wilbers continued. "They want that system working because it's their forever home. A lot of the homeowners I deal with are pleased with the permitting process so that's a good feeling."

Before coming to work at the health department, Wilbers got his bachelor's and master's degrees at Lincoln University. He also worked at Lincoln for 11 years at the Carver Research Farm.

"My background is ag and animal science, but my main interest was in soil profiling," Wilbers said. "I'm a big believer that if you take care of your soils, your grasses are happier and that means your animals are happier."

Wilbers grew up in Wardsville and was part of the first state title football team in 2004 at Blair Oaks. The family has been farming for six generations, with their farm established in 1836.

"When I go out and do inspections, it's a little sad to see farmland going away. But that's just the way things are going right now," Wilbers said.