Environmental health

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Conceptual map illustrating the connections among nonhuman nature, ecosystem services, environmental ethics, environmental justice, and public health. Conceptual-map-illustrating-the-connections-among-nonhuman-nature-ecosystem-services-environmental-ethics-environmental.jpg
Conceptual map illustrating the connections among nonhuman nature, ecosystem services, environmental ethics, environmental justice, and public health.

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

Public health preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting health through organized efforts and informed choices of society and individuals

Public health has been defined as "the science and art of preventing disease, prolonging life and promoting human health through organized efforts and informed choices of society, organizations, public and private, communities and individuals". Analyzing the health of a population and the threats it faces is the basis for public health. The public can be as small as a handful of people or as large as a village or an entire city; in the case of a pandemic it may encompass several continents. The concept of health takes into account physical, psychological and social well-being. As such, according to the World Health Organization, it is not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.

Natural environment All living and non-living things occurring naturally, generally on Earth

The natural environment encompasses all living and non-living things occurring naturally, meaning in this case not artificial. The term is most often applied to the Earth or some parts of Earth. This environment encompasses the interaction of all living species, climate, weather and natural resources that affect human survival and economic activity. The concept of the natural environment can be distinguished as components:

Built environment environment created by humans

In social science, the term built environment, or built world, refers to the human-made environment that provide the setting for human activity, ranging in scale from buildings to parks. It has been defined as "the human-made space in which people live, work, and recreate on a day-to-day basis."


Other terms referring to or concerning environmental health are environmental public health, public health protection, and environmental health protection.


Environmental health has been defined in a 1999 document by the World Health Organization (WHO) as:

World Health Organization Specialized agency of the United Nations

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a specialized agency of the United Nations that is concerned with international public health. It was established on 7 April 1948, and is headquartered in Geneva, Switzerland. The WHO is a member of the United Nations Development Group. Its predecessor, the Health Organization, was an agency of the League of Nations.

Those aspects of the human health and disease that are determined by factors in the environment is called environmental health. It also refers to the theory and practice of assessing and controlling factors in the environment that can potentially affect health.
Environmental health as used by the WHO Regional Office for Europe, includes both the direct pathological effects of chemicals, radiation and some biological agents, and the effects (often indirect) on health and well being of the broad physical, psychological, social and cultural environment, which includes housing, urban development, land use and transport. [1]

As of 2016 the WHO website on environmental health states "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, as well as genetics." [2]

The WHO has also defined environmental health services as "those services which implement environmental health policies through monitoring and control activities. They also carry out that role by promoting the improvement of environmental parameters and by encouraging the use of environmentally friendly and healthy technologies and behaviors. They also have a leading role in developing and suggesting new policy areas."[ citation needed ]

The term environmental medicine may be seen as a medical specialty, or branch of the broader field of environmental health.[ citation needed ] Terminology is not fully established, and in many European countries they are used interchangeably.[ citation needed ]

Environmental medicine is a multidisciplinary field involving medicine, environmental science, chemistry and others, overlapping with environmental pathology. It may be viewed as the medical branch of the broader field of environmental health. The scope of this field involves studying the interactions between environment and human health, and the role of the environment in causing or mediating disease. As a specialist field of study it is looked upon with mixed feelings by physicians and politicians alike, for the basic assumption is that health is more widely and dramatically affected by environmental toxins than previously recognized.


Five basic disciplines generally contribute to the field of environmental health: environmental epidemiology, toxicology, exposure science, environmental engineering, and environmental law. Each of these disciplines contributes different information to describe problems and solutions in environmental health, but there is some overlap among them.

  • Environmental epidemiology studies the relationship between environmental exposures (including exposure to chemicals, radiation, microbiological agents, etc.) and human health. Observational studies, which simply observe exposures that people have already experienced, are common in environmental epidemiology because humans cannot ethically be exposed to agents that are known or suspected to cause disease. While the inability to use experimental study designs is a limitation of environmental epidemiology, this discipline directly observes effects on human health rather than estimating effects from animal studies.[ citation needed ]
  • Toxicology 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. However there are many differences in animal and human biology, and there can be a lot of uncertainty when interpreting the results of animal studies for their implications for human health.[ citation needed ]
  • 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. Exposure science has the advantage of being able to very accurately quantify exposures to specific chemicals, but it does not generate any information about health outcomes like environmental epidemiology or toxicology.[ citation needed ]
  • Environmental engineering 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.[ citation needed ]
  • Environmental law includes the network of treaties, statutes, regulations, common and customary laws addressing the effects of human activity on the natural environment.[ citation needed ]
Environmental epidemiology branch of epidemiology concerned with determining how environmental exposures impact human health

Environmental epidemiology is a branch of epidemiology concerned with determining how environmental exposures impact human health. This field seeks to understand how various external risk factors may predispose to or protect against disease, illness, injury, developmental abnormalities, or death. These factors may be naturally occurring or may be introduced into environments where people live, work, and play.

Toxicology branch of biology, chemistry, and medicine

Toxicology is a scientific discipline, overlapping with biology, chemistry, pharmacology, and medicine, that involves the study of the adverse effects of chemical substances on living organisms and the practice of diagnosing and treating exposures to toxins and toxicants. The relationship between dose and its effects on the exposed organism is of high significance in toxicology. Factors that influence chemical toxicity include the dosage, duration of exposure, route of exposure, species, age, sex, and environment. Toxicologists are experts on poisons and poisoning. There is a movement for evidence-based toxicology as part of the larger movement towards evidence-based practices.

Animal studies is a recently recognized field in which animals are studied in a variety of cross-disciplinary ways. Scholars who engage in animal studies may be formally trained in a number of diverse fields, including geography, art history, anthropology, biology, film studies, geography, history, psychology, literary studies, museology, philosophy, communication, and sociology. They may engage with questions about literal animals, or about notions of "animality" or "brutality," employing various theoretical perspectives, including feminism, Marxist theory, and queer theory. Using these perspectives, those who engage in animal studies seek to understand both human-animal relations now and in the past, and to understand animals as beings-in-themselves, separate from our knowledge of them. Because the field is still developing, scholars and others have some freedom to define their own criteria about what issues may structure the field.

Information from epidemiology, toxicology, and exposure science can be combined to conduct a risk assessment for specific chemicals, mixtures of chemicals or other risk factors to determine whether an exposure poses significant risk to human health (exposure would likely result in the development of pollution-related diseases). This can in turn be used to develop and implement environmental health policy that, for example, regulates chemical emissions, or imposes standards for proper sanitation. [3] [ page needed ] Actions of engineering and law can be combined to provide risk management to minimize, monitor, and otherwise manage the impact of exposure to protect human health to achieve the objectives of environmental health policy.


Overview of main health effects on humans from some common types of pollution. Health effects of pollution.png
Overview of main health effects on humans from some common types of pollution.
FEMA/EPA Hazardous Materials Team removing hazards left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, 2005. FEMA - 16491 - Photograph by John Fleck taken on 09-30-2005 in Mississippi.jpg
FEMA/EPA Hazardous Materials Team removing hazards left in the wake of Hurricane Katrina, 2005.

Environmental health addresses all human-health-related aspects of the natural environment and the built environment. Environmental health concerns include:

According to recent estimates, about 5 to 10% of Disability-adjusted life years (DALYs) lost are due to environmental causes in Europe. By far the most important factor is fine particulate matter pollution in urban air. [7] Similarly, environmental exposures have been estimated to contribute to 4.9 million (8.7%) deaths and 86 million (5.7%) DALYs globally. [8] In the United States, Superfund sites created by various companies have been found to be hazardous to human and environmental health in nearby communities. It was this perceived threat, raising the specter of miscarriages, mutations, birth defects, and cancers that most frightened the public. [9]


The Toxicology and Environmental Health Information Program (TEHIP) [10] is a comprehensive toxicology and environmental health web site, that includes open access to resources produced by US government agencies and organizations, and is maintained under the umbrella of the Specialized Information Service at the United States National Library of Medicine. TEHIP includes links to technical databases, bibliographies, tutorials, and consumer-oriented resources. TEHIP is responsible for the Toxicology Data Network (TOXNET), [11] an integrated system of toxicology and environmental health databases including the Hazardous Substances Data Bank, that are open access, i.e. available free of charge.


There are many environmental health mapping tools. TOXMAP is a geographic information system (GIS) from the Division of Specialized Information Services [12] of the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM) that uses maps of the United States to help users visually explore data from the United States Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Toxics Release Inventory and Superfund Basic Research Programs. TOXMAP is a resource funded by the US federal government. TOXMAP's chemical and environmental health information is taken from the NLM's Toxicology Data Network (TOXNET) [13] and PubMed, and from other authoritative sources.

Environmental health profession

Environmental health professionals may be known as environmental health officers, public health inspectors, environmental health specialists, environmental health practitioners, or sanitarians. Researchers and policy-makers also play important roles in how environmental health is practiced in the field. In many European countries, physicians and veterinarians are involved in environmental health.[ citation needed ] In the United Kingdom, practitioners must 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. [14] 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). [15] Many states in the United States also require that individuals have a bachelor's degree and professional licenses in order to practice environmental health.[ citation needed ] California state law defines the scope of practice of environmental health as follows: [16]

"Scope of practice in environmental health" means the practice of environmental health by registered environmental health specialists in the public and private sector within the meaning of this article and includes, but is not limited to, organization, management, education, enforcement, consultation, and emergency response for the purpose of prevention of environmental health hazards and the promotion and protection of the public health and the environment in the following areas: food protection; housing; institutional environmental health; land use; community noise control; recreational swimming areas and waters; electromagnetic radiation control; solid, liquid, and hazardous materials management; underground storage tank control; onsite septic systems; vector control; drinking water quality; water sanitation; emergency preparedness; and milk and dairy sanitation pursuant to Section 33113 of the Food and Agricultural Code.

The environmental health profession had its modern-day roots in the sanitary and public health movement of the United Kingdom. This was epitomized by Sir Edwin Chadwick, who was instrumental in the repeal of the poor laws, and in 1884 was the founding president of the Association of Public Sanitary Inspectors, now called the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.[ citation needed ]

See also


(For additional related journals, see List of environmental health journals )


Related Research Articles

A toxin is a poisonous substance produced within living cells or organisms; synthetic toxicants created by artificial processes are thus excluded. The term was first used by organic chemist Ludwig Brieger (1849–1919), derived from the word toxic.

Pollution Introduction of contaminants that cause adverse change

Pollution is the introduction of contaminants into the natural environment that cause adverse change. Pollution can take the form of chemical substances or energy, such as noise, heat or light. Pollutants, the components of pollution, can be either foreign substances/energies or naturally occurring contaminants. Pollution is often classed as point source or nonpoint source pollution. In 2015, pollution killed 9 million people in the world.

Hazardous waste waste that poses substantial or potential threats to public health or the environment

Hazardous waste is waste that has substantial or potential threats to public health or the environment.

Toxicity The ability of a chemical to cause damage to life

Toxicity is the degree to which a chemical substance or a particular mixture of substances can damage an organism. Toxicity can refer to the effect on a whole organism, such as an animal, bacterium, or plant, as well as the effect on a substructure of the organism, such as a cell (cytotoxicity) or an organ such as the liver (hepatotoxicity). By extension, the word may be metaphorically used to describe toxic effects on larger and more complex groups, such as the family unit or society at large. Sometimes the word is more or less synonymous with poisoning in everyday usage.

Chemical waste waste that is made from harmful chemicals

Chemical waste is a waste that is made from harmful chemicals. Chemical waste may fall under regulations such as COSHH in the United Kingdom, or the Clean Water Act and Resource Conservation and Recovery Act in the United States. In the U.S., the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA), as well as state and local regulations also regulate chemical use and disposal. Chemical waste may or may not be classed as hazardous waste. A chemical hazardous waste is a solid, liquid, or gaseous material that displays either a “Hazardous Characteristic” or is specifically “listed” by name as a hazardous waste. There are four characteristics chemical wastes may have to be considered as hazardous. These are Ignitability, Corrosivity, Reactivity, and Toxicity. This type of hazardous waste must be categorized as to its identity, constituents, and hazards so that it may be safely handled and managed. Chemical waste is a broad term and encompasses many types of materials. Consult the Material Safety Data Sheet (MSDS), Product Data Sheet or Label for a list of constituents. These sources should state whether this chemical waste is a waste that needs special disposal.

Toxic waste

Toxic waste is any unwanted material in all forms that can cause harm. Many of today's household products such as televisions, computers and phones contain toxic chemicals that can pollute the air and contaminate soil and water. Disposing of such waste is a major public health issue.

Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry an agency in the United States Department of Health and Human Services

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) is a federal public health agency within the United States Department of Health and Human Services. The agency focuses on minimizing human health risks associated with exposure to hazardous substances. It works closely with other federal, state, and local agencies; tribal governments; local communities; and healthcare providers. Its mission is to "Serve the public through responsive public health actions to promote healthy and safe environments and prevent harmful exposures." ATSDR was created as an advisory, nonregulatory agency by the Superfund legislation and was formally organized in 1985.

Superfund United States federal law designed to clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances

Superfund is a United States federal government program designed to fund the cleanup of sites contaminated with hazardous substances and pollutants. Sites managed under this program are referred to as "Superfund" sites. It was established as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA). It authorizes federal natural resource agencies, primarily the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), states and Native American tribes to recover natural resource damages caused by hazardous substances, though most states have and most often use their own versions of CERCLA. CERCLA created the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR). The EPA may identify parties responsible for hazardous substances releases to the environment (polluters) and either compel them to clean up the sites, or it may undertake the cleanup on its own using the Superfund and costs recovered from polluters by referring to the U.S. Department of Justice.

Ethyl carbamate chemical compound

Ethyl carbamate (also called urethane) is an organic compound with the formula CH3CH2OC(O)NH2. It is an ester of carbamic acid. It is a white solid. Despite its name, it is not a component of polyurethanes. Because it is a carcinogen, it is little used, but has been detected in alcoholic beverages.

Occupational hygiene Management of workplace health hazards

Occupational hygiene is the anticipation, recognition, evaluation, control, and confirmation of protection from hazards at work that may result in injury, illness, or affect the well being of workers. These hazards or stressors are typically divided into the categories biological, chemical, physical, ergonomic and psychosocial. The risk of a health effect from a given stressor is a function of the hazard multiplied by the exposure to the individual or group. For chemicals, the hazard can be understood by the dose response profile most often based on toxicological studies or models. Occupational hygienists work closely with toxicologists for understanding chemical hazards, physicists for physical hazards, and physicians and microbiologists for biological hazards Environmental and occupational hygienists are considered experts in exposure science and exposure risk management. Depending on an individual's type of job, a hygienist will apply their exposure science expertise for the protection of workers, consumers and/or communities.

National Priorities List

The National Priorities List (NPL) is the list of hazardous waste sites in the United States eligible for long-term remedial action (cleanup) financed under the federal Superfund program. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) regulations outline a formal process for assessing hazardous waste sites and placing them on the NPL. The NPL is intended primarily to guide EPA in determining which sites warrant further investigation.

"Right to know", in the context of United States workplace and community environmental law, is the legal principle that the individual has the right to know the chemicals to which they may be exposed in their daily living. It is embodied in federal law in the United States as well as in local laws in several states. "Right to Know" laws take two forms: Community Right to Know and Workplace Right to Know. Each grants certain rights to those groups. The "right to know" concept is included in Rachel Carson's book Silent Spring.

TOXMAP is a geographic information system (GIS) from the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM) that uses maps of the United States to help users explore data from the United States Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) and Superfund programs with visual projections and maps.

The Hazardous Substances Data Bank (HSDB) is a toxicology database on the U.S. National Library of Medicine's (NLM) Toxicology Data Network (TOXNET). It focuses on the toxicology of potentially hazardous chemicals, and includes information on human exposure, industrial hygiene, emergency handling procedures, environmental fate, regulatory requirements, and related areas. All data are referenced and derived from a core set of books, government documents, technical reports, and selected primary journal literature. All entries are peer-reviewed by a Scientific Review Panel (SRP), members of which represent a spectrum of professions and interests. Current Chairs of the SRP are Dr. Marcel J. Cassavant, MD, Toxicology Group, and Dr. Roland Everett Langford, PhD, Environmental Fate Group.

Radiation dose reconstruction

Radiation dose reconstruction refers to the process of estimating radiation doses that were received by individuals or populations in the past as a result of particular exposure situations of concern. The basic principle of radiation dose reconstruction is to characterize the radiation environment to which individuals have been exposed using available information. In cases where radiation exposures can not be fully characterized based on available data, default values based on reasonable scientific assumptions can be used as substitutes. The extent to which the default values are used depends on the purpose of the reconstruction(s) being undertaken.

Paul James Lioy was a United States environmental health scientist born in Passaic, New Jersey, working in the field of exposure science. He was one of the world's leading experts in personal exposure to toxins. He published in the areas of air pollution, airborne and deposited particles, Homeland Security, and Hazardous Wastes. Lioy was a Professor and Division Director at the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health, Rutgers University - School of Public Health. Until 30 June 2015 he was a Professor and Vice Chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Medicine, Rutgers University - Robert Wood Johnson Medical School. He was Deputy Director of Government Relations and Director of Exposure Science, at the Rutgers Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute in Piscataway, New Jersey.

<i>Environmental Monitoring and Assessment</i> International Journal Devoted to Progress in the Use of Monitoring Data in Assessing Environmental Risks to Man and the Environment

Environmental Monitoring and Assessment, first published in 1981, is a weekly, peer reviewed, scientific journal published by Springer. The managing editor is G.B. Wiersma.

The exposome encompasses the totality of human environmental exposures from conception onwards, complementing the genome, first proposed in 2005 by a cancer epidemiologist. As of 2016, it may not be possible to measure or model.


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  11. "TOXNET". United States National Library of Medicine.
  12. sis.nlm.nih.gov
  13. toxnet.nlm.nih.gov
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  15. "Canadian Institute of Public Health Inspectors" . Retrieved 4 February 2015.
  16. California Health and Safety Code, section 106615(e)

Further reading