Protecting the health of the public in places as small as one neighborhood and as vast as the entire country has been a daily calling for Capt. Alan Parham ’91 for the past 20 years. Since he began his career in the commissioned ranks of the U.S. Public Health Service, Parham’s work in environmental health has taken him to hazardous waste sites in New Mexico, pesticide burial sites near the Savannah River, a Coast Guard base in Alaska and Ground Zero, among other deployments.
In November, Parham was named to the post of chief professional officer for environmental health, the highest position in his field. In his new role, Parham will lead the U.S. Public Health Service, Environmental Health Professional Affairs division, and will advise the Office of the Surgeon General and the U.S. Department of Health and Health Services on assignments and deployments whenever necessary to assess public health impact.
He began his career in public health in 1990 as a student intern with the Indian Health Service in Gallup, N.M. After he graduated from WCU, Parham received a call to active duty with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, based in Atlanta. While there, he worked as a health assessor evaluating potential health impacts to local communities and the Pueblo tribes surrounding the Department of Energy’s Los Alamos National Laboratory in New Mexico.
After earning a master’s degree in public health at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, he accepted an assignment with the Office of Health and Safety of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to manage the hazardous waste disposal program. He led efforts at a pesticide burial site in Savannah, Ga., that had resulted because of research on DDT and efforts to control malaria in the 1940s. He also served as the safety and environmental health office for the Coast Guard’s largest base in Kodiak, Alaska.
He has been involved in major response efforts to protect public health and was at Ground Zero in 2001 as part of a residential air sampling team after the World Trade Center attacks. In 2003, he was deployed to North Carolina following Hurricane Isabel.
Since graduating from WCU, Parham has frequently visited campus to talk with students about careers in public health. He lives in Winder, Ga., with wife Kim and their four children.