Environmental Health Workgroup Objectives (13)
About the Workgroup
Approach and Rationale
People constantly interact with the environment. These interactions affect quality of life, years of healthy life lived, and health disparities. The World Health Organization 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 involves preventing or controlling disease, injury, and disability related to the interactions between people and their environment. Environmental health is how the environment impacts human health and well-being.
The environment can impact human health through pollution, such as hazardous substances in our soil or air, and through environmental disturbances, such as those that cause global change. Pollution and environmental disturbances may cause illness, disease, or death. Some indirect environmental impacts — for example, water scarcity due to extreme drought — are also critical to human life. Understanding environmental impacts and the connections between the environment and human health is key to our survival.2
According to Landrigan et al. (2018), “Pollution is the largest environmental cause of disease and premature death in the world today. Diseases caused by pollution were responsible for an estimated 9 million premature deaths in 2015 — 16 percent of all deaths worldwide. This was 3 times more than deaths from AIDS, tuberculosis, and malaria combined and 15 times more than deaths from all wars and other forms of violence.”3
Understanding Environmental Health
“Pollution disproportionately kills the poor and vulnerable,” Landrigan et al. (2018) write. “Nearly 92 percent of pollution-related deaths occur in low- and middle-income countries, and in countries at every income level, disease caused by pollution is most prevalent among minorities and the marginalised. Children are at high risk of pollution-related disease and even extremely low-dose exposures to pollutants in utero and in early infancy can result in disease, disability, and death in childhood and across their lifespan.”3
Emerging Issues in Environmental Health
We live in an increasingly complex environment in which new exposures and related health threats continually arise, both locally and globally. Some, such as industrial accidents and weather-related disasters, pose acute public health emergencies that require the capacity for immediate action to understand and respond to them. Others, such as pandemic diseases and long-term climate impacts on health, create a need for both immediate response and ongoing study to help prepare for future threats. Exposure to unknown hazards also continues to be an emerging area of concern.
Every year, hundreds of new chemicals are introduced to the U.S. market. It is presumed that some of these chemicals may present new, unexpected challenges to human health, and their safety should be evaluated prior to release.
World Health Organization. (2006). Preventing Disease Through Healthy Environments [PDF file]. Retrieved from: https://www.who.int/quantifying_ehimpacts/publications/preventingdisease.pdf
Brusseau, M.L., Ramirez-Andreotta, M., Pepper, I.L., & Maximillian, J. (2019). Environmental Impacts on Human Health and Well-Being (chapter 26). Retrieved from: https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/B9780128147191000264
Landrigan et al. (2018). The Lancet Commission on pollution and health. The Lancet, 391(10119), 3-9. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(17)32345-0