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Saturday, November 8, 2008

Environmental health

Environmental health is the branch of public health that is concerned with all aspects of the natural and built environment that may affect human health. Other terms that refer to the discipline of environmental health include environmental public health and environmental health and protection.

Environmental health is defined by the World Health Organisation as:

Those aspects of 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.

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 wellbeing of the broad physical, psychological, social and aesthetic environment which includes housing, urban development, land use and transport.

Environmental health services

Environmental health services are defined by the World Health Organisation 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 behaviours. They also have a leading role in developing and suggesting new policy areas.

Environmental health practitioners may be known as sanitarians, public health inspectors, environmental health specialists or environmental health officers. Many states in the United States require that individuals have professional licenses in order to practice environmental health. California state law defines the scope of practice of environmental health as follows:

"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; on site septic systems; vector control; drinking water quality; water sanitation; emergency preparedness; and milk and dairy sanitation.

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 was the founding president of the Association of Public Sanitary Inspectors in 1884, which today is the Chartered Institute of Environmental Health.

Environmental health concerns

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

* Air quality, including both ambient outdoor air and indoor air quality, which also comprises concerns about environmental tobacco smoke.

* Body art safety, including tattooing, body piercing and permanent cosmetics.

* Climate change and its effects on health.

* Disaster preparedness and response.

* Food safety, including in agriculture, transportation, food processing, wholesale and retail distribution and sale.

* Hazardous materials management, including hazardous waste management, contaminated site remediation, the prevention of leaks from underground storage tanks and the prevention of hazardous materials releases to the environment and responses to emergency situations resulting from such releases.

* Housing, including substandard housing abatement and the inspection of jails and prisons.

* Childhood lead poisoning prevention.

* Land use planning, including smart growth.

* Liquid waste disposal, including city wastewater treatment plants and on-site waste water disposal systems, such as septic tank systems and chemical toilets.

* Medical waste management and disposal.

* Noise pollution control.

* Occupational health and industrial hygiene.

* Radiological health, including exposure to ionizing radiation from X-rays or radioactive isotopes.

* Recreational water illness prevention, including from swimming pools, spas and ocean and freshwater bathing places.

* Safe drinking water.

* Solid waste management, including landfills, recycling facilities, composting and solid waste transfer stations.

* Toxic chemical exposure whether in consumer products, housing, workplaces, air, water or soil.

* Vector control, including the control of mosquitoes, rodents, flies, cockroaches and other animals that may transmit pathogens.

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