What is environmental health?

Environmental health is an outlet of public health that is connected with different aspects of a natural and man-built environment and can affect human fitness. Environmental science, toxicology, occupational and environmental medicine, and epidemiology are some of the vital sub-disciplines of environmental health. According to a document by the World Health Organization, environmental health is defined as the aspects of human health and diseases that are determined by environmental factors. Environmental health also refers to the practice and theory of calculating and accessing factors in the environment that can potentially influence human health.

Direct effects of pathological chemicals, radiations, biological factors and all the factors related to the behavior of human health are included in environmental health. The main motive behind maintaining proper environmental health is to prevent diseases from spreading and creating an environment that will be health-supportive. It is interconnected with social, cultural and environmental behavior also.

WHO implements a different type of health policies in the environment by controlling and monitoring activities of human beings. They also look after various parameters of the atmosphere by encouraging the utilization of healthy and eco-friendly behaviors and technologies. WHO also has a leading role in proposing and developing new policies for the accurate health of the surrounding environment.

Environmental Health

Disciplines of the Environmental Health

Five disciplines contribute to the environmental health department by describing the problems and their probable solution in the subject. Now let us have a quick look at those disciplines.

  1. Environmental Epidemiology: Environmental Epidemiology refers to the study of human health and environmental exposure to chemicals, microbiological agents, and radiation. It mainly refers to the research of those diseases that are unknown and can cause epidemic results. The environmental epidemiology cannot use study designs of the experiments and observe effects on human health rather than on animals.
  2. Exposure Science: Exposure Science is related to the study of human exposure to contaminants in the environment by quantifying and identifying the exposures. It supports Environmental Epidemiology and calculates the contact that leads to a particular outcome of the health and assesses the risks involved. Exposure Science also takes care that the current level of exposure should not exceed the recommended level. It also accurately determines the exposure to specific chemicals.
  3. Toxicology: Toxicology is the study of how exposures due to environmental chemicals may lead to the specific outcome of the health, mainly in animals and human beings. It conducts different controlled trials randomly and other investigational studies.
  4. Environmental Law: Environmental Law includes a network of statutes, treaties, customary and common laws, and treaties addressing the adverse effects of human activity on the natural environment.
  5. Environmental Engineering: Engineering and scientific principles are applied in Environmental Engineering for the protection of human beings from the unfavorable effects of the environmental factors. It also safeguards the environment from the potentially toxic effects of human activities and improves the quality of the environment.

Information that is gathered from toxicology, environmental epidemiology, and exposure science can be used to conduct a proper assessment of the risks involved in specific chemicals or other factors that can pose a significant risk to human health. This is used to implement and develop various health policies like regulation of chemical emissions and imposing laws for proper sanitation of the wastes. Environmental law and engineering together minimizes risk management, monitor and manage the harmful effects due to exposure and imply various policies supporting environmental health.

Related: What Are the Causes and Effects of Forest Fires?

Concerns of Environmental Health

Environmental Health looks after certain concerns that address all the effects of human health related to man-built and natural environment. The different concerns of environmental health are:

  • Biosafety
  • Change of the Climate and its effects on health
  • Preparation for a disaster and response
  • Proper inspection of prisons and jails
  • Abatement of substandard housing
  • Prevention of Childhood leak poisoning
  • Management and disposal of medical waste
  • Controlling noise pollution
  • Industrial hygiene and occupational health
  • Radiological health like exposure to ionizing radiation from radioactive isotopes and x-rays
  • Prevention of illness due to recreational water like swimming pools and spas
  • Safe and secure drinking water
  • Control of air quality of both indoor and outdoor
  • Prevention of tobacco smoke
  • Planning of land use like smart growth
  • Disposal of liquid waste from the wastewater plants, septic tanks, and chemical toilets
  • Solid waste management from recycling facilities, landfills, solid waste transfer solutions and composting
  • Toxic chemical exposure from air, water, workplaces, consumer products, and housing
  • Controlling mosquitoes, flies, rodents, cockroaches that can transmit pathogens

Mapping of Environmental Health

There are different types of mapping tools for the measurement of environmental health. TOXMAP is a special type of GIS (Geographic Information System) that uses the USA maps to assist the uses to explore all the data from the EPA of the United States’ Superfund Basic Research Programs and Toxic Release Inventory. All the health and chemical information present in the TOXMAP is derived from the Pubmed, TOXNET and other authenticated authoritative sources.

Who are Environmental Health Professionals?

Environmental health officers, specialists, practitioners, sanitarians and public health inspectors all are known as Environmental Health Professionals. Policymakers and researchers are also important in properly maintaining the health of the environment. In many countries, especially in Europe, veterinarians and physicians are also considered as environmental health professionals.

In the UK, Doctors must have a compulsory degree in environmental health and should be registered with the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland. In Canada, each environmental health professional should have a Bachelor’s degree in the subject and professional license to encourage it.

All the Environmental Health specialists focus mainly on the control of noise pollution, electromagnetic radiation, management of the liquid hazardous materials, quality of the drinking water, maintenance of the underground storage tank, proper sanitation of water, dairy and milk sanitation and protection of food.

What Exactly Does an Environmental Health Professional do?

An environmental health professional with appropriate training, education, certification, and registration can do the following:

  • Identify and evaluate the hazardous environmental agents
  • Investigate the sample and measure the level of toxicity in the air, soil, food, water
  • Develop, enforce and promote policies, laws, regulations, and guidelines
  • Offers educational materials and health communications
  • Apply and recommend interventions to control health hazards
  • Performs analysis of the system
  • Lead the team of environmental health within national and international organizations
  • Review the land use and construction plans carefully and make changing suggestions accordingly
  • Engage common people to address and understand the problems of the environment
  • Prepare the required reports and summaries by interpreting the data
  • Establish the relationship between environment and health by understanding the evidence

How to Build a Valuable Environmental Health System?

It is high time to invest in various environmental Health services in the government via dedicated resources that will develop an effective system and will proactively help everyone. It will also protect the communities in attaining good health. Moreover, Local, State, Federal, and tribal governments should approve standard policies to ensure the equity of environmental health particularly for those who are already vulnerable and are at risk.

The government can promote a valuable and efficient environmental health system through:

  • Developing a highly trained and well-skilled workforce
  • Creation of united infrastructure to track and collect vital information
  • Making sure that all the policies and laws are properly executed and are updated based on the research
  • Providing sustainable and ample funding from diversified sources
  • Assuring all the health services are accessible
  • Encouraging partnerships for cross sectors sections to support good health impacts

A consistent environmental health system measures and monitors a different kind of diseases, exposures, and hazards. It also represents real-time data to deliver reports in case of emergencies and identify the real problems for proper planning of the programs.

Why Do We Need an Impartial and Strong Environmental Health System?

Environmental health professionals are working day and night to make sure that the air we are breathing, the food we eat and the water we are drinking is completely secure and safe. Enhancement to detect and prevent the threats, promoting policies based on evidence and research, and ensuring that the proper services reach to the tenets of a system after a disaster are some of the purposes of creating a strong environmental health system.

Below are the three examples with severe implications on environmental health. These threats will not be the last ones, so we must be prepared with a tough environmental health system. Let us look at the recent threats that have a rigorous effect on the innumerable population of the world.

The outbreak of Zika Virus

Mosquito-Borne diseases like Encephalitis, Dengue, West Nile Virus Disease, chikungunya and Zika virus have continued to threaten the health of human beings for ages. Zika Virus is passed to a fetus from an infected pregnant woman and can cause devastating birth defects. This defect can cause significant consequences on the economy and communities. There is no way to prevent this virus other than controlling the spread of mosquitoes and programs for public education.

Environmental health programs for the management of mosquitoes include monitoring and surveillance of the nests of mosquitoes, removing the places of laying their eggs, and application of pesticides to reduce the population while shielding the water systems. These programs along with public education awareness will undoubtedly result in the reduction of suffering and illness due to the Zika virus.

Hurricanes Sandy and Katrina

Hurricane Katrina in 2005 has flooded the city of New Orleans and destroyed almost 100000 homes. Superstorm Sandy in 2012 has hit the city of New York and New Jersey causing distressing damage to the power supply, homes, businesses, and roads. Storms and hurricanes like this tend to have longer and acute environmental impacts on the health of human beings causing emotional, economical and physical harm.

A sturdy environmental health system offers essential measures like making sure that the drinking water is safe, the building when reconstructed will be exposed to lead or other contaminants or not. This system responds to the above-mentioned concerns and alleviates the unpleasant health consequences.

Water Crisis in Flint

The safety of almost 100,000 people was threatened in Flint due to the absence of necessary steps for the control of corrosion. This resulted in the increased level of lead in the blood of all the population including the children consuming this water. This could have been prevented. Strong policy and law with sufficient accountability supported by the resourceful environmental health system are necessary to track systems for the drinking water.

Potential health threats can be tracked by the detection of microbial and chemical contaminants, protection of source waters, enforcement of all the regulations, and time to time surveillance of the quality of drinking water.

Importance of Environmental Health

A healthy, safe and Supportive environment is always needed for good health. The environments where we live always determine our physical and mental wellbeing and health. Perfect environmental health is always necessary to sustain life through basic materials like:

  • Safe and pure drinking water
  • Nutritious and healthy food
  • Clean and fresh air
  • Safe and protected places to live

Thus maintaining all the above factors will increase the quality and years of a healthy life. Right now, 26% of deaths across the world are mainly due to preventable factors of the environment. Meager environmental health has the greatest impact on those people whose health conditions are already bad. Therefore, ideal environmental health must tackle all the environmental and social factors, thus decreasing the likelihood of diseases and exposures.

Effects in Human Health Due to Environmental Health

Changes in environmental health can affect human health. Environmental hazards will increase the probability of diseases and will, in turn, causes a change in the social and economic pillars of sustainability. Now let us have a quick look at those changes.

Environmental ChangesImpact on Human Health
Air PollutionHeart Diseases, lung cancer, Respiratory problems
Unsafe water for drinking purposeDiarrhea, gastrointestinal problems
Contaminated water for recreational purposesEye, nose, ear and throat infections
Increase in Mosquito populationDengue, malaria, Chikungunya
Ultraviolet Light exposureMelanoma and nonmelanoma skin cancer, eye cataracts
Second-hand exposure to smokeLow birth weight in infants, SUDI, asthma and respiratory infections in children, infections in the middle ear, stroke, lung cancer
Damp housingMortality in excess rate
Change in the climateGiardiasis, salmonellosis, cryptosporidiosis, Heat Stroke
Exposure to Hazardous materialsBurns, skin diseases, poisoning
LeadDevelopmental and behavioral delays in the children, increase in the blood pressure
NoiseHeart diseases, insomnia, psychological problems, loss of hearing

Thus, at the end of this article, we can conclude that environmental health can indirectly or directly affect our mental and physical health. Environmental health mainly examines the interaction between the health of human beings and the environment. In all the developed countries a proper environmental health system plays a major role in the decrease in the burden of diseases. Hence, we can say that environmental health is the study of the impact of man-made chemicals on human health and wildlife and how the environment influences a disease spread.