What is Environmental Health?

Environmental health entails grasping the effects of environment and human-made vulnerabilities/ hazards and insulation of human health and environmental systems from these hazards. This involves examining and evaluating the effects of chemicals made by humans to human health or wildlife and how the ecological systems impacts spread of illnesses. It can include everything from managing the use of pesticides to the quality of drywall used in construction.

It is a healthcare area that is gaining increasing attention around the world as there are more studies proving that the impact of environmental health extends beyond the individual and can determine the cost of public health care and the health of the local economy. In short, environmental health is the study of how environmental factors can harm human health and how we can identify and control such effects.

According to World Health Organization (WHO),

“Environmental health addresses all the physical, chemical, and biological factors external to a person, and all the related factors impacting behaviours. It encompasses the assessment and control of those environmental factors that can potentially affect health. It is targeted towards preventing disease and creating health-supportive environments. This definition excludes behaviour not related to environment, as well as behaviour related to the social and cultural environment, and genetics.”

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When researchers and monitors are assessing the environmental health of a person or community they are looking at how external elements are impacting the mental, emotional and physical health of the individual, and at large. They can come in to do assessments that are focused on decreasing epidemics or childhood morbidity, as well as to improve the overall preventative healthcare measures in the area. Environmental health regulations can extend to cover housing, transportation, food and water management as well. There is not one aspect of life that is not covered by environmental health as it recognizes the interrelation of all areas of economy and community on a person’s health state.

Kinds of Environmental Hazards

Humans stumble across numerous environmental hazards every single day. To better understand environmental health, let’s classify them into four categories:

Biological hazards

Biological hazards emanate from environmental relations between organisms. Some examples of biological hazards include bacteria, viruses, fungi, spores, pathogenic micro-organisms, tuberculosis, malaria and so on. When these diseases and pathogens are transmitted between two or more organisms, we call it infectious disease. The real reason humans suffer from these pathogens and diseases is that they are being infested by other organisms, which is a natural process, but at the same time hazardous.

Physical hazards

These are physical processes which happen naturally in the environment, for example, natural disasters like volcanoes, earthquakes, droughts, landslides, blizzards, and tornadoes. Physical hazards are considered secret events, but not all are, for instance, a few like UV radiations are openly happening each day. Ultraviolet radiation is categorized as hazardous since too much exposure to it destroys the DNA and triggers health complications in humans such as cataracts and skin cancer.

Chemical hazards

They occur in ecological systems in two ways; human-made or natural.  Examples of naturally occurring chemical hazards include mercury and lead, which are considered heavy metals. Human-made chemical hazards encompass lots of synthetic chemicals human produce such as pesticides, plastics, and disinfectants. A few organisms even generate natural chemicals, which are hazardous to the environment, for instance, elements contained in peanuts and dairy that trigger allergic reactions to humans.

Cultural hazards

They are sometimes referred to as social hazards. They originate from your locality, behavioral choices, occupation, and social-economic status. Examples of cultural hazards include cigarette smoking, which is detrimental to human health. Cigarette smoking is considered a behavior choice. If you reside in a neighborhood full of criminal activities, it is classified as a hazard based on your locality. In equal measure, your diet choice, workout habits, and main means of transportation all impact your overall health and the health of the ecological system around you.

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Critical Issues Related to Environmental Health

Environmental health addresses all human health related issues which include:-

Handling Issues of Disease Control

Disease mitigation and control is one main aspect affecting environmental health. This can be paraphrased as assisting to build up or improve waste management systems to prevent the possibility of waste polluting drinking water sources or triggering the spread of illnesses.

In parts of the globe that industrialization is revolutionizing the local community’s living standards, education programs might be initiated that display acts of public health hygiene. The materials and techniques related to the progress of industry are also linked to growth of infectious diseases if individuals that live there are not in synch with the requirements of proper hygiene and handling of waste items.

Food Management

Food management is a well-known issue that affects environmental health. Food management  regulations will concern everything from how seed is harvested and prepared to what types of fertilizer and pesticides are used to nurture the crops to maturity. The authorities will also examine processing, packaging and storage facilities for food products to ensure that all food items are safe for human consumption and there is less risk for contamination or food spoilage.

In other scenarios, environmental health might also tackle the transportation requirement of food because the road or rail network in some countries may not be good enough to enable prompt reach of food supplies to the population.

Water Quality Issues

Guaranteeing that portable or enough drinking water will be readily obtainable to the local community is yet another main aspect of environmental health. Environmental health campaigners will look to find ways of developing water reserves that can be wholly cushioned from the possibility of contamination. These environmental advocates not only look towards drinking and cooking water, but making sure there is availability of enough water for crop irrigation.

Another aspect of water control is to make sure that proper drainage systems are in place. Ensuring appropriate drainage is in place is due to health concerns that may be instigated by stagnant water and how it can contribute to existence of diseases carried along by mosquitoes that commonly breed in stagnant water.

Housing and Transportation

Environmental health also looks at the quality and condition of transportation and housing. In recent times, an example of how environmental health helped to change and shape building policies is the focus on removing lead and asbestos from building. Transportation can become a concern for environmental health if the local community isn’t connected to any form of public transportation or there is no sufficient infrastructure to enable them access opportunities and services that are in proximity to them.

Apart from listed above, environmental health also address issues related to:

Air Pollution and how too much exposure to it can result in dangerous diseases like asthma and cancer.

Climate Change and its effects on our surrounding environment.

Exposure to toxic chemicals and how they impact human health.

Solid Waste Management which includes recycling facilities, landfills and composting.

Management of medical waste such as mitigation of dangerous materials from finding way to the ecological system.

Hazardous Materials Management.

Climate change and its grave impacts on the immediate environment

Environmental health also deals with aspects of climate change and how it impacts the environment. Climate change could cause:

Rising temperatures: If climate change is not mitigated, temperatures could go way up resulting in more heat waves and fires, severe droughts and rains are likely to be intense when they finally come, and this could cause severe floods.

Rising sea levels: Many take seas and oceans for granted. They slow down climate change and absorb greenhouse gasses and heat, which could be detrimental to human health. This becomes more pronounce each day, and marine life could be impacted, and sooner all kinds of life on the planet will be impacted.

Global initiatives in environmental health

The World Health Organization spearheads the largest global environmental health initiative in existence. Their focus is primarily on the prevention of epidemics and to improve infant and child morbidity rates in developing countries through increasing the healthfulness of the environment of the community. They oversee projects that involve everything from vaccination programs to water processing plant construction.

Anywhere that there is a community there is a need for an examination of the state of environmental health for that community, and the individuals it supports. The impact of individual health is what determines the health of the country’s economy in all aspects.

Statistics are stark, according to World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 12.6 million people died in 2012 due to working or living in an unhealthy environment. This figure represents 1 in 4 total worldwide deaths according to recent surveys by the same organization. Environmental health risk factors, for instance, water, air, climate change, ultraviolet rays, climate exposures, soil, and pollution play a role in over 100 injuries and diseases.

By centering on minimizing environmental and social risk factors, close to a quarter of the world’s disease burden can be mitigated. Some classic examples of measures that will ensure environmental health is on par include excellent hygiene measures, boosting safe water storage, efficient and reliable administration of toxic compounds at home and workplace. On top of that, affirmative action by sectors like agriculture, transport, and energy are needed promptly, in collaboration with the health sector, to deal with causes of social and environmental ill health that are out of reach of the health sector.

Image credit: yopse , pixabay

Rinkesh

Rinkesh is passionate about clean and green energy. He is running this site since 2009 and writes on various environmental and renewable energy related topics. He lives a green lifestyle and is often looking for ways to improve the environment around him.