John Kephart: Improving Health Abroad

September 16th, 2008  |  by  |  Published in People

John W. Kephart
John Kephart, BA in biology ’00, UH Hilo

Career: Public health/environmental health scientist
Current home: A boat in the San Francisco Bay area named Kansas—a dream since boat-sitting on the Big Island
Hobbies: Yachting, scuba diving, skiing, photography

Working through non-governmental organization Occupational Knowledge International, John Kephart seeks to to improve public health by reducing exposure to industrial pollutants. He partners with organizations in developing countries to build their capacity to identify, monitor and mitigate environmental and occupational exposures themselves.

For the past year, Kephart has traveled to India every other month to educate workers and their families about health issues surrounding lead exposure. A study conducted in conjunction with OK International’s lead battery plant certification program is finding significantly elevated levels of lead in the blood of children who live within 2 kilometers of a lead battery plant.

Kephart plans to talk with government officials and battery manufacturers about lead regulations and implement health education programs.

He’d like to do the same in China, and he’s working on issues facing Indian stone crusher workers. Inhalation of crystalline silica, created when stones are crushed to make cement, damages the lungs and respiratory system. Workers exposed to silica dust have a 16-times higher incidence of tuberculosis than the average Indian.

“We’ve done some research to show that simple water spray systems help reduce silica dust exposure by up to 80 percent,’ Kephart says.

“I thank my professors for giving me the knowledge, courage and understanding to reach out to other cultures and to help address the health needs of those less fortunate than us,”, the Salinas, Kan., native says.

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