What’s more, healthier environments have the potential to prevent one-quarter of all worldwide diseases.
Furthermore, COVID-19 pandemic serves as a fresh reminder of our dependence on our environment.
Degrading environmental health is the highest risk to human existence. Why?
So, this is high time we get serious about improving our environmental well-being.
Environmental health activists advocate for policies and initiatives to minimize environmental pollution. These policies will safeguard people while also making communities healthier.
Want to know how environmental health impacts your life? Read on to discover the what, why, and hows of environmental well-being.
What Is Environmental Health?
Environmental health is a sector of public health that works on the relationships between people and the environment.
Moreover, it tries to understand how environmental factors impact our health and well-being.
Additionally, environmental well-being involves assessing the interactions between people and their environment.
The World Health Organization (WHO) has given different definitions of environmental health throughout history.
According to a WHO 1989 document:
Environmental health is the aspect of human health and illness that is affected by environmental factors.
It also refers to the practice and theory of controlling environmental factors that can impact human health.
However, a 1990 WHO document states:
Environmental health is the pathological impact of radiation, chemicals, and biological agents on human health.
Additionally, it includes the impact of these factors on the social, psychological, social, and cultural environment. These environments include housing, land use, urban development, and transport.
Finally, in 2016, the WHO defined environmental health as:
The sector of public health that includes all the physical, biological, and chemical factors external to a person that impact health and behavior.
In addition, it promotes inspection and management of the environmental factors that can affect health. It also includes working toward disease prevention and creating healthy environments.
Some of the significant prerequisites for environmental well-being are:
- Clean Air
- Stable Climate
- Adequate Water
- Preserved Nature
- Sanitation and Hygiene
- Safe Use of Chemicals
- Protection from Radiation
- Healthy and Safe Workplaces
- Sound Agricultural Practices
- Health-supportive Cities and Built Environments
Why Environmental Health Is Important?
Ensuring environmental health is extremely important to survive as a species.
Our living environment has a significant impact on our health and well-being. Therefore, we humans need a safe and healthy environment to live a healthy life.
We need to fulfill the prerequisites of environmental well-being to live a healthy life.
Here are just a few ways that environmental health issues can affect our overall health:
- Respiratory Diseases
- Waterborne Illnesses
- Global Warming
- Increasing Natural Disasters
- Reduced Life Expectancy
According to WHO,
About 99% of the global population breathes in polluted air.
Breathing in toxic air can lead to numerous respiratory diseases.
Unfortunately, respiratory diseases caused by air pollution result in the death of 7 million people every year.
So, to save ourselves and our future generation, we must ensure safe breathing air. And that can only be done by reducing air pollution.
Drinking safe water is one of our fundamental human rights. But unfortunately, the drinking water is riddled with chemical waste, feces, pesticides, and whatnot.
As a result, 485000 people die yearly due to waterborne diseases like cholera, dysentery, diarrhea, typhoid, and polio.
Without ensuring good environmental health, it’s impossible to stop these unnecessary deaths.
Poor environmental conditions lead to increasing global temperatures.
Global warming is causing heat waves, droughts, and forest fires worldwide. As a result, these affect our physical, mental, and social health.
Human activities are the main reason behind greenhouse gas emissions and global warming.
Therefore, we must work towards lowering our carbon footprint and greenhouse gas emissions.
Increasing Natural Disasters
Environmental pollution leads to increasing natural disasters. And these disasters further pollute the environment.
As a result, people suffer from continually degrading environmental health.
Reduced Life Expectancy
Environmental well-being plays a huge role in our average life expectancy. Studies show poor environmental health reduces human life expectancy by two years on average.
Without fulfilling the prerequisites of environmental health, we won’t be able to lead a healthy life.
There are a million other ways environmental health issues affect our life.
We need to solve these issues to improve our environmental well-being. So, you see why ensuring ecological health is of utmost importance.
5 Disciplines of Environmental Health
Environmental health has five basic disciplines. They are as follows:
Each of these five disciplines contributes to a different aspect of environmental well-being. So let’s get to know what they include:
Environmental epidemiology studies the link between environmental exposures and human health. Chemicals, radiation, and microbiological agents are all sources of exposure.
Moreover, it studies the impact of physical, biological, and chemical exposures on human health.
Observational studies are a central part of epidemiology. And it simply observes exposures that people have already encountered.
Humans cannot be ethically exposed to agents known or suspected of causing sickness.
The inability to use experimental study designs is a limitation. However, this sector directly monitors the consequences on human health.
In addition, it examines specific populations or communities exposed to different ambient environments.
Toxicology is the study of how specific environmental exposures affect human health.
Also, this study generally utilizes animals to understand potential human health outcomes.
Toxicology has an advantage over environmental epidemiology since it uses animals. Because toxicological research can use animals in randomized and experimental trials.
However, there are numerous distinctions between animal and human biology. As a result, there can be some uncertainty when interpreting animal study data for human health implications.
Exposure science is the study of human exposure to environmental toxins. The identification and quantification of environmental exposures help this process.
Additionally, it can be used to support environmental epidemiology by:
- Identifying environmental exposures that may lead to specific health outcomes.
- Identifying health outcomes that can be better understood through toxicological research.
- Conducting a risk assessment to evaluate whether current exposure levels exceed recommended ranges.
- Exposure science can accurately estimate chemical exposures.
However, it does not produce data on health effects like environmental epidemiology or toxicity.
This sector applies scientific and engineering methods to protect humans from harmful environmental factors.
It also includes protecting the environment from potentially harmful natural and human activities. Overall, this discipline tries to improve overall environmental health.
Environmental law includes all treaties and regulations dealing with human activity’s effects on the environment.
Toxicology, epidemiology, and exposure science information can be combined to perform risk evaluations.
Additionally, this information can be effective in determining the impact of exposure on human health.
Moreover, environmental health policies for regulating chemical emissions are developed using these disciplines. On the other hand, environmental laws and engineering can help in risk management.
Environmental Health Concerns
Environmental health focuses on all aspects of the natural and human-built environment.
Here are some critical areas of concern within environmental health:
- Air Quality
- Water Quality
- Food Safety
- Noise Pollution
- Hazardous Substance
- Vector Control
- Occupational Health & Hygiene
- Waste Management
- Land Pollution
- Radiological Health
- Disaster Preparedness & Response
Biosafety refers to safety policies and practices for handling hazardous biological materials.
Additionally, it includes containment principles, technologies, and practices. These practices prevent exposure to unintentional or accidental pathogens and toxins.
Moreover, biosafety prevention measures include doing regular biosafety evaluations in laboratory settings.
Key components of biosafety are:
- Risk Assessment
- Containment Facilities
- Training and Education
- Waste Management
- Regulatory Compliance
- Personal Protective Equipment (PPE)
- Standard Operating Procedures (SOPs)
Biosafety measures protect laboratory personnel, the community, and the environment from biological hazards.
And to maintain a safe working environment when handling and manipulating biological materials.
Good air quality is a vital part of ensuring environmental health. Air quality includes two factors:
The main concerns about air quality include air pollution by chemical waste, industrial fumes, vehicle smoke, etc.
Outdoor Air Quality
Air pollution is basically the contamination of air by substances that are dangerous to our health. For example, outdoor air pollution is caused from:
- Energy Production
- Industrial Fumes
- Agricultural Chemicals
- Waste Incineration
- Fossil Fuel Burning
- Motor & Avian vehicles
Humans release harmful chemicals, gases, and fumes into the air through these activities. Humans breathing in such toxins can get sick and die in extreme cases.
Polluted air leads to diseases like:
- Lung cancer
- Respiratory Infections
- Heart Diseases and other Respiratory illnesses.
However, an air pollutant’s danger is determined by its effect on human health. Moreover, the impact of air pollution also depends on the level of exposure.
For example, children who play outdoor sports are exposed to more outdoor air pollution than adults who spend most of their time indoors.
Reducing air pollution and ensuring safe breathing air can decrease adult mortality to a large extent.
Environmental health professionals work to identify individuals at higher risk of air pollution. Moreover, they try to reduce exposure and identify risk factors in communities.
Indoor Air Quality
Ensuring safe indoor air quality is more important than outdoor air quality.
about 4.3 million people die due to diseases caused by household air pollutionSource: WHO
Poor indoor air quality is especially harmful to vulnerable people. Children and older citizens spend most of their time indoors. As they result, they suffer the most from indoor air pollution.
Here are some common reasons for indoor air pollution:
- Dampness and Mold
- Dust and Dirt
- Tobacco Smoking
- Burning Kerosine or Coal for Cooking
Tobacco smoking is the most dangerous among indoor air pollutants. Why?
Because tobacco smoke contains more than 70 carcinogens. Exposure to these chemicals can lead to asthma, cardiovascular diseases, and cancer.
Safe drinking water is our basic human need for living a healthy life.
However, around 2.2 billion people worldwide cannot access safe drinking water.
In cities and towns, unsafe water management methods increase the risk of waterborne diseases. Moreover, drinking polluted water can lead to cholera, polio, dysentery, typhoid, and diarrhea.
Common reasons behind water pollution are:
- Oil Leaks
- Industrial Waste
- Global Warming
- Radioactive Waste
- Agricultural Chemicals
- Marine Waste Dumping
- Sewage and Wastewater
All of these factors degrade our drinking water quality. Furthermore, harmful chemicals such as lead and arsenic can be found in tap water.
Without ensuring safe water quality, environmental health can never be improved.
Food safety includes regulating the safety and quality of food production. Other aspects of food safety include:
- Safe Agricultural Methods
- Food Processing
- Wholesale and Retail Distribution, etc.
Monitoring and regulating these aspects ensure food safety and prevent foodborne illnesses.
Noise pollution is usually caused by artificial sounds that disrupt our life in some form.
Common reasons for noise pollution are:
- Industrial Noise
- Traffic Noise
- Construction Sites
- Miking and Advertisement, etc.
Continuous exposure to noise pollution can cause diseases like:
- Stress and Anxiety
- Hearing Impairments
- Sleep Disturbance
- Cardiovascular Problems, etc.
Unfortunately, people in low socioeconomic communities suffer more from noise pollution.
Moreover, 432 million adults have suffered hearing loss due to noise pollution.
Hazardous Substance Management
Most air, water, and land pollution occur because of inadequate hazardous substance management.
Therefore, we must be more careful about managing exposure to toxic chemicals and hazardous materials.
Hazardous substances include pesticides, asbestos, heavy metals, and industrial chemicals.
Moreover, toxic substance exposure in air, water, soil, and consumer products should be controlled.
Vector control implies controlling disease-carrying organisms like mosquitoes, ticks, rodents, flies, cockroaches, etc.
Controlling such pathogen-transmitting insects and animals will prevent the spread of vector-borne illness.
Common vector-borne illnesses are malaria, dengue, Lyme disease, etc.
Occupational Health & Hygiene
Strict regulations have been passed to ensure occupational health and hygiene.
The Occupational Safety and Health Administration prepared strict workplace safety and hygiene guidelines. It includes recognition, evaluation, control, and protection from workplace safety hazards.
Still, many industries make their employees work in hazardous environments with toxic substances. This leads to long-term illnesses and even death.
However, environmental health can only be ensured by ensuring occupational health.
Want to know more about occupational health? Check out this in-depth article on Occupational Health.
Waste management properly disposes of waste materials to prevent contamination of air, water, and soil.
Moreover, it helps minimize health risks associated with improper waste handling.
Waste management includes:
Liquid Waste Disposal
City wastewater treatment plants are an essential part of liquid waste management. Additionally, on-site liquid waste disposal systems should be built in every factory.
Solid Waste Disposal
Solid waste disposal refers to the complete waste collection, transfer, and processing process.
Standard waste management methods include composting sites, recycling facilities, and waste transfer stations.
Medical Waste Disposal
Medical waste is liquid or solid waste generated from treating human beings in a hospital or clinic.
Proper management of medical waste is crucial as it can include harmful substances.
Popular methods of hospital waste management include autoclaving and incineration.
Chemical Waste Disposal
Chemical waste is excess chemicals from industries, labs, or hospitals. These chemicals can harm the environment.
More caution is needed for chemical waste management. Also, different countries have different laws for chemical waste disposal.
So, follow the proper guidelines for storing and disposing of chemical waste.
Land pollution is the contamination of soil by outside pollutants. The leading cause of land pollution is unsustainable agricultural practices.
Also, improved waste disposal, mining, littering, and illegal dumping cause soil pollution. Furthermore, polluted soil can poison the food that’s grown on it.
To improve environmental health, proper planning should be followed for land usage.
Radiological health refers to the safe use of radiology in medical treatment and diagnosis.
It includes saving humans from radiation exposure. These radiations could be from X-rays or other diagnostic radiology procedures.
Disaster Preparedness & Response
It is a set of proactive steps governments, organizations, communities, or individuals take. These approaches help us in dealing with the immediate aftermath of a disaster.
Climate Change Impact on Environmental Health
It has a significant impact on environmental health. This phenomenon affects all aspects of the environment.
Here are a few of the common impacts we have seen on our environmental health:
Extreme Weather Events
Hazardous weather events have become more common due to climate change.
Dust storms, ozone smog events, and rising aerosol levels are results of the extreme heat that comes with climate change.
Moreover, the extreme heat also brings in drought, forest fires, and ice burgs melting.
What’s more, these weather events have increased:
- Food Insecurity
So, you see how badly climate change affects not only our environmental health.
Another harmful impact of climate change is the rise of waterborne pathogens.
Frequent runoffs, heavy rains, and severe storms pollute the water with different pathogens. As a result, millions die each year due to waterborne diseases.
Cyclones, tornadoes, droughts, forest fires, and storm surges have uprooted millions of people.
Unfortunately, people in low-income communities are more exposed to such threats. This is because they have insufficient infrastructure to deal with climate disasters.
As a result, losing loved ones, homes, and way of life directly impacts our environmental health. Furthermore, climate disasters can lead to:
- Financial Stress
- Lower Household Income
- Lack of Social Health, etc.
Environmental health protects the overall well-being of individuals and communities.
We can protect public health by addressing the link between us and our environment.
Moreover, environmental health professionals work to mitigate the risks posed by environmental hazards.
They strive to ensure safe air, pure water sources, healthy food supplies, and safe working conditions.
However, we as individuals should also work towards improving our environmental well-being.
By working together, we can reduce exposure to environmental risks. What’s more, we can promote a healthier and more sustainable future.
In conclusion, prioritizing environmental health is essential for the overall well-being of both present and future generations.
Want to learn more about health? Check out these articles:
Environmental Health FAQ
If you have further questions, check out these frequently asked questions about environmental well-being.
Environmental racism is basically a form of institutional racism.
It refers to incinerators, landfills, and dangerous waste being placed in low-income communities of color.
In essence, it is the unethical process of putting certain groups of people at higher risk of environmental pollution.
Unfortunately, environmental racism uniquely affects the most marginalized groups of any region. These marginalized communities are put next to pollution sources like:
Toxic Waste Sites
Chemical Plants, etc.
Environmental health professionals are also known as environmental health officers, practitioners, specialists, or public health inspectors.
Policy-makers, researchers, physicians, and veterinarians also play essential roles as environmental health professionals.
These professionals practice environmental health in the public and private sectors. Their duties can include promoting, establishing, and managing environmental health education, law enforcement, consultation, etc.
Environmental health is represented in pop culture, mainly in movies. Cinemas like The Lorax, WALL-E, Happy Feet, and Free Willy highlight the need for environmental health protection.