Introduction to Environmental Health
Humans interact with the environment constantly. These interactions affect quality of life, years of healthy life lived, and health disparities. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines environment, as it relates to health, as “all the physical, chemical, and biological factors external to a person, and all the related behaviors.”1 Environmental health consists of preventing or controlling disease, injury, and disability related to the interactions between people and their environment. ((U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 2013)
The Healthy People 2020 Environmental Health objectives focus on 6 themes, each of which highlights an element of environmental health:
1. Outdoor air quality
2. Surface and ground water quality
3. Toxic substances and hazardous wastes
4. Homes and communities
5. Infrastructure and surveillance
6. Global environmental health
Maintaining a healthy environment is central to increasing quality of life and years of healthy life. Globally, nearly 25 percent of all deaths and the total disease burden can be attributed to environmental factors. Environmental factors are diverse and far reaching. They include:
1. Exposure to hazardous substances in the air, water, soil, and food
2. Natural and technological disasters
3. Physical hazards
4. Nutritional deficiencies
5. The built environment
Poor environmental quality has its greatest impact on people whose health status is already at risk. Therefore, environmental health must address the societal and environmental factors that increase the likelihood of exposure and disease.
Emerging Issues in Environmental Health
Environmental health is a dynamic and evolving field. While not all complex environmental issues can be predicted, some known emerging issues in the field include: climate change, disaster preparedness, nanotechnology, the built environment, and exposure to unknown hazards.
Environmental toxicology is the study of the nature, properties, effects and detection of toxic substances in the environment and in any environmentally exposed species, including humans.
Toxicology is the study of the adverse effects of chemicals on biological systems. The adverse effects can range from mild skin irritation to a more severe injury such as liver damage or even death. All substances have the potential to be toxic. However, all substances are not equally toxic; some have effects on minimum doses and others require very high doses.
Toxicology can assist in identifying toxicants, and assessing the risks they pose among others. We are exposed to many chemicals on a daily basis. We ingest traces of chemicals in the food that we consume and the water we drink. We inhale particles in the air that we breathe. We are exposed to substances that may get through our skin and into our blood stream.
Introduction to Occupational Health and Safety
Occupational health and safety is the science of anticipating, recognizing, evaluating, and controlling workplace conditions that may cause workers’ injury or illness. Occupational health and safety professionals are often called industrial hygienists. Industrial hygienists use environmental monitoring and analytical methods to detect the extent of worker exposure and employ engineering, work practice controls, and other methods to control potential health hazards.
There has been an awareness of industrial hygiene since antiquity. The environment and its relation to worker health was recognized as early as the fourth century BC when Hippocrates noted lead toxicity in the mining industry. In the first century AD, Pliny the Elder, a Roman scholar, perceived health risks to those working with zinc and sulfur. He devised a face mask made from an animal bladder to protect workers from exposure to dust and lead fumes.
In the second century AD, the Greek physician, Galen, accurately described the pathology of lead poisoning and also recognized the hazardous exposures of copper miners to acid mists.
In the early 20th century in the U. S., Dr. Alice Hamilton, led efforts to improve industrial hygiene. She observed industrial conditions first hand and startled mine owners, factory managers, and state officials with evidence that there was a correlation between worker illness and their exposure to toxins. She also presented definitive proposals for eliminating unhealthful working conditions.
At about the same time, U.S. federal and state agencies began investigating health conditions in industry. In 1908, the public’s awareness of occupationally related diseases stimulated the passage of compensation acts for certain civil employees. States passed the first workers’ compensation laws in 1911. And in 1913, the New York Department of Labor and the Ohio Department of Health established the first state industrial hygiene programs. All states enacted such legislation by 1948. In most states, there is some compensation coverage for workers contracting occupational diseases.
The U.S. Congress has passed three landmark pieces of legislation relating to safeguarding workers’ health: (1) the Metal and Nonmetallic Mines Safety Act of 1966, (2) the Federal Coal Mine Safety and Health Act of 1969, and (3) the Occupational Safety and Health Act of 1970 (Act). Today, nearly every employer is required to implement the elements of an industrial hygiene and safety, occupational health, or hazard communication program and to be responsive to the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Act and its regulations.
Occupational Safety and Health Act (1970)
Congress passed the Occupational and Safety Health Act in 1970 to ensure worker and workplace safety. Their Goal was to make sure employers provide their workers a place of employment free from recognized hazards to safety and health, such as exposure to toxic chemicals, excessive noise levels, mechanical dangers, heat or cold stress, or unsanitary conditions.
The purpose of the OSHA Act is “to assure in so far as possible every working man and woman in the nation safe and healthful working conditions and to preserve our human resources”.
Under the General Duty Clause, the OSH Act promulgates that “every employer:
1. shall furnish to each of his employees employment and a place of employment which are free from recognized hazards that are causing or are likely to cause death or serious physical harm to his employees;
2. shall comply with occupational safety and health standards promulgated under this Act”
In order to establish standards for workplace health and safety, the Act also created the National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health (NIOSH) as the research institution for the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA). OSHA is a division of the U.S. Department of Labor that oversees the administration of the Act and enforces standards in all 50 states.
Earth Day Network (n.d.).. Ecological Footprint Quiz. Retrieved on 1/6/14 at http://www.earthday.org/footprint-calculator
National Institutes of Health (2009). National Library of Medicine Toxicology Tutor I: Basic Principles. Retrieved on 1/6/14 at http://sis.nlm.nih.gov/enviro/toxtutor.html
Tong S., Mather P., Fitzgerald G., McRae D., Verrall K., and Walker D.(2010). Assessing the Vulnerability of Eco-Environmental Health to Climate Change. International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, 7(2): 546–564.
Healey, B.J., & Walker, K.T. (2009). Chapter 2: Epidemiology of Occupational Safety and Health. In Public Health/Environmental Health: Introduction to Occupational Health in Public Health Practice. Hoboken, NJ, USA: Jossey-Bass.
Institute of Medicine (2000). Chapter 1: Introduction. In Safe Work in the 21st Century: Education and Training Needs for the Next Decade’s Occupational Safety and Health Personnel. Washington, DC, USA: National Academies Press.
Philip R.B. (2012). Chapter 1: Introduction and Overview. In Environmental Issues for the Twenty-First Century and their Impact on Human Health. SAIF Zone, Sharjah, UAE: Bentham Science Publishers .
Climate change is a global environmental health issue affecting all countries in the world and is a result of human development and activity. It is related to the ecological footprint of the human population.
In this CA, you will analyze your individual ecological footprint and will examine the footprint of developed and developing countries:
1. Take the Ecological Footprint Quiz, and calculate your ecological footprint. Chose the part of the world(San Antonio, Texas) that you consider home to start the quiz. (Earth Day Network, n.d.)
2. Determine your ecological footprint based on the online quiz and describe ways by which you can reduce this footprint.
3. Compare the ecological footprint of a developed to the one of a developing country,
4. Compare the impacts of climate change on developed versus developing countries.
Use information from your module readings/articles as well as appropriate research to support your paper.
Length: The CA assignment should be 4 pages long (double-spaced).
References: At least three references must be included from academic sources (e.g., peer-reviewed journal articles). Required Reading is included. Quoted materials should not exceed 5% of the total paper (since the focus of these assignments is critical thinking). Use your own words and build on the ideas of others. Materials copied verbatim from external sources must be enclosed in quotation marks. In-text citations are required as well as a list of references at the end of the assignment. (APA format is recommended.)
Organization: Subheadings should be used to organize your paper according to the questions.
Format: APA format is recommended for this assignment.
Introduction to Environmental Health