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.
Other terms referring to or concerning environmental health are environmental public health, public health protection, and environmental health protection.
Environmental health was defined in a 1999 document by the World Health Organization (WHO) 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.
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."
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 ]
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.
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. [ 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.
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.Similarly, environmental exposures have been estimated to contribute to 4.9 million (8.7%) deaths and 86 million (5.7%) DALYs globally. 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.
The Toxicology and Environmental Health Information Program (TEHIP)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), 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 Servicesof 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) and PubMed, and from other authoritative sources.
Environmental health professionals may be known as environmental health officers, public health inspectors, environmental health specialists or environmental health practitioners. 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. 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). 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:
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 ]
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 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 is waste that has substantial or potential threats to public health or the environment.
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 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.
Industrial waste is the waste produced by industrial activity which includes any material that is rendered useless during a manufacturing process such as that of factories, industries, mills, and mining operations. Types of industrial waste include dirt and gravel, masonry and concrete, scrap metal, oil, solvents, chemicals, scrap lumber, even vegetable matter from restaurants. Industrial waste may be solid, liquid or gaseous. It may be hazardous or non-hazardous waste. Hazardous waste may be toxic, ignitable, corrosive, reactive, or radioactive. Industrial waste may pollute the air, the soil, or nearby water sources, eventually ending up in the sea. Industrial waste is often mixed into municipal waste, making accurate assessments difficult. An estimate for the US goes as high as 7.6 billion tons of industrial waste produced every year. Most countries have enacted legislation to deal with the problem of industrial waste, but strictness and compliance regimes vary. Enforcement is always an issue.
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.
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.
The United States federal Superfund law is officially known as the Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation, and Liability Act of 1980 (CERCLA). The federal Superfund program, administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is designed to investigate and clean up sites contaminated with hazardous substances. Sites managed under this program are referred to as "Superfund" sites. There are 40,000 federal Superfund sites across the country, and approximately 1,600 of those sites have been listed on the National Priorities List (NPL). Sites on the NPL are considered the most highly contaminated and undergo longer-term remedial investigation and remedial action (cleanups).
An environmental factor, ecological factor or eco factor is any factor, abiotic or biotic, that influences living organisms. Abiotic factors include ambient temperature, amount of sunlight, and pH of the water soil in which an organism lives. Biotic factors would include the availability of food organisms and the presence of biological specificity, competitors, predators, and parasites.
The National Priorities List (NPL) is the priority list of hazardous waste sites in the United States eligible for long-term remedial investigation and 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 are so contaminated as to warrant further investigation and significant cleanup.
Environmental medicine is a multidisciplinary field involving medicine, environmental science, chemistry and others, overlapping with environmental pathology. It can 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. This specialist field of study developed after the realisation that health is more widely and dramatically affected by environmental factors than previously recognized.
Soil contamination or soil pollution as part of land degradation is caused by the presence of xenobiotics (human-made) chemicals or other alteration in the natural soil environment. It is typically caused by industrial activity, agricultural chemicals or improper disposal of waste. The most common chemicals involved are petroleum hydrocarbons, polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons, solvents, pesticides, lead, and other heavy metals. Contamination is correlated with the degree of industrialization and intensity of chemical substance. The concern over soil contamination stems primarily from health risks, from direct contact with the contaminated soil, vapours from the contaminants, or from secondary contamination of water supplies within and underlying the soil. Mapping of contaminated soil sites and the resulting cleanups are time-consuming and expensive tasks, requiring extensive amounts of geology, hydrology, chemistry, computer modeling skills, and GIS in Environmental Contamination, as well as an appreciation of the history of industrial chemistry.
The Toxics Release Inventory (TRI) is a publicly available database containing information on toxic chemical releases and other waste management activities in the United States.
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.
TOXMAP was a geographic information system (GIS) from the United States National Library of Medicine (NLM) that was deprecated on December 16, 2019. The application used 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.
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.
Pesticide regulation in the United States is primarily a responsibility of the Environmental Protection Agency.
Environmental health ethics is a field of study that combines environmental health policies and ethical consideration towards a mutually acceptable goal. Given the myriad of environmental issues facing society today a sound ethical background can be applied in an attempt to reach a compromise between conflicting interests, like anthropocentrism, global stewardship, religious values, economic development, and public health. A small sample of the scientific disciplines involved in environmental health ethics include: ecology, toxicology, epidemiology, and exposure biology.