Multnomah County Environmental Health Division employee Ben Duncan honored with Billi Odegaard Public Health Genius Award

October 7, 2011

Ben Duncan, a program development specialist with Multnomah County Health Department’s Environmental Health Division, was recognized for his leadership in environmental justice and honored with a Billi Odegaard Public Health Genius Award on Friday, Oct. 7.

The Emerging Leader Award, given by the Oregon Public Health Institute, honors Oregonians who work to improve public health in outstanding and innovative ways. Recipients are selected based on demonstrated impact, originality, insight and ability to create lasting change. Often, they work with Oregon’s most vulnerable residents who bear the heaviest burden of disease and experience health disparities.

The ninth annual awards luncheon was held at the Multnomah Athletic Club in Portland. Paula Sampson, a retiring health administrator from Lincoln County, was awarded with the organization’s Lifetime Excellence Award.

Duncan’s work focuses on the relationship between health and the environment through both policy and community-based empowerment work, and touches on all aspects of environmental health issues including food borne illness, vector control, air quality and housing.

Duncan is the founder and board chair of the grassroots organization OPAL (Organizing People, Activating Leaders) Environmental Justice Oregon, which prepares community members, particularly from communities of color, to become leaders. He was an appointee to the 2009 Governor’s Environmental Justice Task Force. At the county, Duncan is involved in the Diversity and Quality team, the Employees of Color employee resource group and the Health Equity Initiative, which all focus on justice and equity.

Duncan began his work in Multnomah County as a community health worker in the Healthy Homes asthma intervention program in 2004. Among the emerging issues he is currently working on are a community-based coalition to resolve the emergence of bedbugs, reducing exposure of nail salon employees to toxins and supervising interns working on advancing the use of popular education to empower low income and communities of color.

In a letter nominating Duncan for the award, Lila Wickham, Director of Environmental Health, called him “a resonant voice for public health.”