Environmental Health (Everything you need to know)

According to WHO – Environmental health is defined as those aspects of the human health and disease that are determined by factors in the environment. It also refers to the theory and practice of assessing and controlling factors in the environment that can potentially affect health.

It can be said to be the field of science that studies how the environment influences human health and disease. Therefore contrary to what the name implies,  is not focused on the health and well-being of the environment.

In general, is the branch of public health concerned with all aspects of the natural and built environment affecting human health. It is focused on the natural and built environments for the benefit of human health. The major sub-disciplines of environmental health are: environmental science; environmental and occupational medicine, toxicology and epidemiology.

It help in preventing human injury and illness and promoting well-being by:

  • Identifying and evaluating environmental sources and hazardous agents, and
  • Limiting exposures to hazardous physical, chemical, and biological agents in air, water, soil, food, and other environmental media or settings that may adversely affect human health.

 

Environmental health issues

Example:
  • Exposure to hazardous substances in the air, water, soil, and food
  • Natural and technological disasters
  • Climate change
  • Occupational hazards
  • The built environment
  • Drinking water
  • Basic sanitation and
  • Nutrition,
  • Global warming

Another global health priority identified was the link between our health and the environment we live in, from the water we drink, to the air we breathe, to the food we grow and eat. More than three million children under the age of five die each year from environment-related causes, such as polluted indoor and outdoor air, contaminated water and lack of adequate sanitation.

WHO’s programmes and initiatives on water and sanitation, vector-borne diseases, indoor air pollution, chemical safety, transport, ultraviolet radiation, nutrition, occupational health, food safety and injury prevention all address issues critical to improving a healthy environment.

Other concerns include:

  • Air quality, including both ambient outdoor air and indoor air quality, which also comprises concerns about environmental tobacco smoke.
  • Biosafety
  • Disaster preparedness and response.
  • Climate change and its effects on health.
  • Hazardous materials management, including hazardous waste management, contaminated site remediation, the prevention of leaks from underground storage tanks and the prevention of hazardous materials releases to the environment and responses to emergency situations resulting from such releases.
  • Childhood lead poisoning prevention.
  • Liquid waste disposal, e.g waste water treatment plants and on-site waste water disposal systems, such as septic tank systems and chemical toilets.
  • Medical waste management and disposal.
  • Noise pollution control.
  • Occupational health and industrial hygiene
  • Radiological health, including exposure to ionizing radiation from X-rays or radioactive isotopes.
  • Recreational water illness prevention
  • Solid waste management
  • Toxic chemical exposure
  • Vector control

 

Environmental exposures and related human health effects

SourceEhinz New Zealand

Environmental exposure Examples of health effects
Outdoor air pollution Respiratory conditions, cardiovascular disease, lung cancer
Unsafe drinking water Diarrhoeal (gastrointestinal) illnesses
Contaminated recreational water Diarrhoeal (gastrointestinal) illnesses; eye, ear, nose and throat infections
Mosquitoes, ticks and other vectors Malaria, dengue fever, Rickettsial disease
UV (ultraviolet light) exposure Too much: melanoma, non-melanoma skin cancer, eye cataracts

Too little: vitamin D deficiency, leading to rickets, osteoporosis and osteomalacia

Second-hand smoke exposure In infants: low birthweight, sudden unexpected death in infancy (SUDI)

In children: asthma, lower respiratory infections, middle ear infections

In adults: ischaemic heart disease, stroke, lung cancer

Household crowding Infectious diseases, including lower respiratory infections
Cold and damp housing Excess mortality
Climate change Infectious diseases, including giardiasis, cryptosporidiosis and salmonellosis; heat stroke
Hazardous substances Poisoning, burns, dermatitis
Lead In children: developmental delays, behavioural problems

In adults: increased blood pressure

Asbestos Breathing difficulties, lung cancer, mesothelioma
Noise Hearing loss, cardiovascular problems, insomnia, psychophysiological problems

 

Why Is Environmental Health Important?

Maintaining a healthy environment is central to increasing quality of life and years of healthy life. Globally, 23% of all deaths and 26% of deaths among children under age 5 are due to preventable environmental factors. Environmental factors are diverse and far reaching. They include:

  • Exposure to hazardous substances in the air, water, soil, and food
  • Natural and technological disasters
  • Climate change
  • Occupational hazards
  • The built environment

Poor environmental quality has its greatest impact on people whose health status is already at risk. Therefore, environmental health must address the societal and environmental factors that increase the likelihood of exposure and disease.

 

Environmental Health Discipline

There are five (5) basic disciplines generally contribute to the field of environmental health:

  • Environmental epidemiology: Environmental epidemiology studies the relationship between environmental exposures (including exposure to chemicals, radiation, microbiological agents, etc.) and human health. It is an observational studies, which simply observe exposures that people have already experienced.
  • Toxicology: This studies how environmental exposures lead to specific health outcomes, generally in animals, as a means to understand possible health outcomes in humans. Toxicology has the advantage of being able to conduct randomized controlled trials and other experimental studies because they can use animal subjects.
  • Exposure science: Exposure science studies human exposure to environmental contaminants by both identifying and quantifying exposures. Exposure science can be used to support environmental epidemiology by better describing environmental exposures that may lead to a particular health outcome, identify common exposures whose health outcomes may be better understood through a toxicology study, or can be used in a risk assessment to determine whether current levels of exposure might exceed recommended levels.
  • Environmental engineering: This applies scientific and engineering principles for protection of human populations from the effects of adverse environmental factors; protection of environments from potentially deleterious effects of natural and human activities; and general improvement of environmental quality
  • Environmental law: Environmental law includes the network of treaties, statutes, regulations, common and customary laws addressing the effects of human activity on the natural environment.

Each of these disciplines contributes different information to describe problems and solutions in environmental health, but there is some overlap among them.

 

Environmental health profession

People in the this profession are known as Environmental Health professionals or specialists. They may also be known as environmental health officers, inspectors, specialists, practitioners, or sanitarians.

An environmental health professional or specialist is a practitioner with appropriate academic education and training and registration or certification to:

  • Investigate, sample, measure, and assess hazardous environmental agents in various environmental media and settings;
  • Recommend and apply protective interventions that control hazards to health;
  • Develop, promote, and enforce guidelines, policies, laws, and regulations;
  • Develop and provide health communications and educational materials;
  • Manage and lead environmental health units within organizations;
  • Perform systems analysis;
  • Engage community members to understand, address, and resolve problems;
  • Review construction and land use plans and make recommendations;
  • Interpret research utilizing science and evidence to understand the relationship between health and environment; and
  • Interpret data and prepare technical summaries and reports.

 

Basic Qualification of an Environmental Health Specialist

Qualification differs on region:

United Kingdom

In the United Kingdom, practitioners are expected to have a graduate degree in environmental health and be certified and registered with the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health or the Royal Environmental Health Institute of Scotland.

Canada

In Canada, practitioners in environmental health are required to obtain an approved bachelor’s degree in environmental health along with the national professional certificate, the Certificate in Public Health Inspection (Canada) CPHI(C).

United States

 Many states in the United States require that individuals have a bachelor’s degree and professional licenses in order to practice environmental health. 

 

In conclusion, this health  sciences seeks to identify factors outside the body (food, water, air, temperature radiation, bacteria, fungi, PCBs, food coloring, violence, depression, etc.), which impact overall health, and then transmits that knowledge to the public and health-care workers to improve the health of the public.

The Professionals have been saddled with the responsibility to act to succor the health effect of these environmental factors. If you are interested in this profession, information have been provided which could guide your ambition.

 

 

Further Reading

Environmental Health and Safety (EHS)

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By Ubong Edet

A passionate Health and Safety professional with a good level of field experience and relevant certifications including NEBOSH, OSHA, ISO, etc certifications. An Health and Safety activist who believes in the growth and continual improvement of the profession. He is going all out to create awareness and safe precious lives.

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