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Environmental Health


Pollution of the air, water, or soil can lead to health problems. For example, pollutants in the air or at home can trigger asthma attacks.

Some environmental risks, like radon in the soil, are a part of the natural world. Others are the result of human activities, like lead poisoning from paint, or exposure to asbestos or mercury from mining or industrial use.

Environmental health is the branch of public health that focuses on the relationships between people and their environment. It promotes human health and well-being, fosters healthy and safe communities, and consists of preventing or controlling disease, injury, and disability related to the environment.

Key elements of environmental health include:

  • Indoor and outdoor air quality
  • Surface and groundwater quality
  • Exposure to toxic substances and hazardous waste
  • Heating and sanitation
  • The built environment

Why is environmental health important?

Maintaining a healthy environment helps increase quality of life and years of healthy life. Poor environmental quality has the greatest impact on people whose health status is already at risk. The most disadvantaged people tend to suffer the most from environmental hazards. Therefore, environmental health must address the socioeconomic factors that increase the likelihood of exposure and disease. 

Economic development has led to improvements in people’s well-being, but often at the expense of the environment. Industrialization has contributed to pollution of air and water, changing dietary patterns, and shifting patterns of transportation and land use. 

A healthy population is essential for economic development. Disease and disability related to polluted environments slow and block economic development. Unhealthy children often cannot attend or do well in school, and some unhealthy adults cannot work or care for their families.

Emerging issues in environmental health

Environmental health is a complex and evolving field. Some known emerging issues in the field include:

  • Climate change—may impact sea level, patterns of infectious disease, air quality, and the severity of natural disasters such as storms, droughts, and floods.
  • Disaster preparedness—involves preparing for the impact of natural and manmade disasters on human health and public infrastructure.
  • Blood lead levels—affects millions of older houses or buildings that have children living in them who are potentially being exposed to lead. Any exposure should be taken seriously. 
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