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Topics > Environmental Issues > FAQ: Environmental Health and Hazardous Materials

FAQ: Environmental Health and Hazardous Materials

Q What do I do if I get food poisoning from a restaurant, bar, supermarket or mobile food truck?

Report the illness to Environmental Health within 24 hours by calling 925-692-2500. If you wait longer, there may be no way to determine if the food facility is at fault. Environmental Health can determine if there are other factors or concerns that could contribute to others being ill and take corrective measures.

Q Do I need a permit to sell or serve food at a fair or festival?

Yes, Health permits are required for all temporary food events that are often part of health fairs and festivals. The application fee for a temporary food event permit is $35. It must be submitted two weeks prior to the event. For an application, call Environmental Health at 925-692-2500.

Q How do I start a food business?

Contact the Environmental Health office at 925-692-2500 and ask the receptionist for the information packet on starting a food facility business. Existing food facilities have past inspection reports which can be reviewed by submitting a Request for Documents.

Q Can any kind of food be sold from a mobile food facility?

No, only certain pre-packaged foods can be sold. Call 925-692-2500 for information on acceptable foods.

Q The swimming pool at my health club sometimes looks a little green. What should I do?

Environmental Health issues annual permits for swimming pools and spas. Report any problems with swimming pools in community centers, health clubs and schools to 925-692-2500. Environmental Health staff will make sure the pool is sanitary with proper chlorine and pH levels.

Q How can I tell if my septic system is not performing adequately?

There are signs to watch for to determine if a septic system is not performing adequately. The water draining down the sink drain shows slow drainage or a complete back up into the house and/or the septic drainfields may show a damp or ponding of liquid at the surface and a sewage odor may be detected.

Q Does Contra Costa Health Services have someone that can come to my home or apartment and inspect my mold problem?

CCHS does not have a program to inspect mold problems. There are currently no legal standards to determine if the type and amount of mold in a particular home or apartment is a health hazard. CCHS has a fact sheet and other information available to help you address mold problems. You can get this information from our web site at or by calling 925-313-6823.

Q I cleaned out my garage and found old paint and varnish. Can I just throw it away?

Simply throwing it in the trash could be harmful for the environment. Instead, you can use free drop-off sites throughout the County. It only takes 5-10 minutes and is a safe way to dispose of hazardous waste. For dropoff sites and to make an appointment call: East County 925-778-4040; West County 1-888-412-9277; Central and South County, 1-800-646-1431.

Q I know I'm not supposed to dump used motor oil in the drain or trash, but what should I do with it?

Recycle your motor oil in clean, empty, plastic containers with tight lids. Don't mix other substances like gasoline, paint thinners, pesticides or antifreeze with used motor oil. Used motor oil, car batteries, brake and transmission fluids, antifreeze and solvents can be dropped off throughout the County at various locations. For dropoff sites and information, call 1-800-750-4096.

Q We just moved into our house and I'm concerned about whether my children are at risk from being exposed to lead.

The Hazardous Materials Division works with the Lead Poisoning Prevention Project to address lead issues. For medical concerns related to lead, call 1-866-FIX-LEAD. For environmental issues related to lead, call Hazardous Materials at 925-335-3200.

Q There's a family of skunks living under my house. How do I get rid of them?

For help with skunks, mosquitos, ticks, rodents, bee swarms, yellow jackets or other animal pests, call the Contra Costa Mosquito and Vector Control District at 925-685-9301.

Q Occasionally, I hear a loud siren and I don't know what I should do. Does it mean there's been a toxic release from one of the refineries?

The sirens you hear might be a refinery release, but could also be a release from another industrial facility, highway, railroad or pipeline accident. The sirens are tested on the first Wednesday of each month at 11:00 a.m. If you hear a siren at this time, don't worry. If you hear a siren at any other time, go inside, close doors and windows, and turn on the radio or television for instructions.

Q Who should I call with questions or concerns about environmental or health issues involving hazardous materials, or about the Department's Hazardous Materials Program?

Contra Costa Health Services has a Hazardous Materials Ombudsman who you can call with your questions and concerns. Call toll free at 1-877-662-8376.

Q A barrel of oil has been left in my neighborhood. Can you help to get rid of it?

Yes, the Hazardous Materials Division responds to reports of incidents such as when paint or oil has been abandoned or spilled, when someone reports a strange smell, or with the clean-up of illegal drug labs. Call 925-335-3200 to report.

Q I saw some dirty needles lying in the gutter and I don't want to touch them, but I'm worried about kids picking them up. What should I do?

Call Environmental Health right away at 925-692-2500 to request information about removal of needles or any other medical hazardous waste.

Q There's an unpleasant smell from the animal waste in my neighbor's yard. Can you do something about that?

Yes, Call Environmental Health at 925-692-2500 to make a complaint.

Q Excessive weeds are growing in an empty lot near my home. Besides looking terrible, isn't it a fire hazard?

It could be. For excessive weeds, yard debris, or other potential fire hazards, call your local fire department to make a report.

Q Where can I get information about recycling and reuse?

Call the County Recycling Hotline at 1-800-750-4096. Additional information specifically for West County can be obtained at 510-215-3125 or for Central County at 925-906-1801.

The Environmental Health and Hazardous Materials programs are divisions of Contra Costa Health Services. For more information call 925-692-2500.

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