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Introduction to

Environmental Health
Allison Robinson
University of Pittsburgh
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
November 2001

Learning Objectives
Define fundamental terms
Explain the basic relationship
between the environment and health
Explain impact of environmental
factors on health
Explain role of environmental health
professionals

Performance Objectives
Understand what is environmental
health
Understand scope of problem definition
Understand means of addressing
defined problem
Understand the role players involved in
problem solving

Outline

Definition of Environmental Health


Interdependent Relations
Environmental Effects on Health
Systematic Approach
Interdisciplinary Roles

Definition: Health
is a state of complete physical, mental

and social well-being and not merely the


absence of disease or infirmity(WHO,
1948)
Health is only possible where resources are
available to meet human needs and where
the living and working environment is
protected from life-threatening and health
threatening pollutants, pathogens and
physical hazards(Who, 1992a)

Definition: Environment
[All] that which is external to
individual human host. [It] can be
divided into physical, biological,
social cultural any or all of which
can influence health status in
populations. (WHO, 1995)

Definition: Environmental Health


comprises those aspects of human
health, including quality of life, that are
determined by physical, biological, social
and psychosocial factors in the
environment. It also, refers to the theory
and practice of assessing, correcting,
controlling, and preventing those factors
in the environment that can potentially
affect adversely the health of present and
future generations (WHO, 1993a)

Definition:
Health Effect
is the specific damage to health
that an environmental hazard can
cause an individual person. Often
the same hazard can cause a range of
different effects of different severity.
(Yassi et al., 2001)

Interdependence
Health depends on resources.
Good health depends on accessibility
to sustainable resources.
Bad health results from inaccessibility
to sustainable resources or exposure to
a hazard.
Sustainable resources and hazards
exist in the environment.
Therefore, quality of health depends
on the environment

Interdependent Environments
A relational definition of environment
is a function of scale, boundaries,
spatial proximity and recipient
populations
When considering a global scale,
focus is on the effect of an unbounded
environment, e.g. air, on all
populations anywhere

Interdependent Environments
When considering local scale, focus
is on effect of both a bounded and an
unbounded environment, e.g. water
and air, on a subpopulation closest to
the exposure event
The local scale is a subpart of the
global scale

Population Perspective of Relations


All populations
Human population
Community, nation
Family

Individual

Health and Environment


Perspective of Relations
Environmental health
Public Health
Occupational Health
Family Health

Personal
Health

Environmental Effects on Health


The indicators of beneficial
environmental effects are longevity
and sustained functionality.
Two degrees of adverse environmental
effects are: injury (syn. include:
debilitating, dysfunctional, lame) with
decreased longevity or death (syn.
include: life-threatening, terminal,
deleterious)

Environmental Effects on Health


Injury does not prematurely end life,
but can hinder the capacity to
function to the fullest potential
Death does end life and is the most
extreme adverse state of health
This means of classification is simple
and rigorous

Environmental Effects on Health


An individuals response to an
environmental effect is a function of
their physical environment, their
health state, and their culture.

Systematic Approach
In the absence of a universal
definition of good health, at least a
universal concept of adverse health
effect, e.g. sick, illness, dysfunctional,
not normal or not well, must exist
such that understanding the concept
results in a response

Systematic Approach
In order to identify and investigate
adverse states of health, a fundamental
systematic approach of health problem
identification and characterization
must exist and be implemented
This approach is summarized as
follows:

Systematic Approach
Determine the source and nature of
hazards
Determine the exposure pathway
Measure the effects
Apply controls however possible
(Moeller, 1992)

Interdisciplinary Roles
To implement the systematic
approach, role players are needed
Three major classes of role players
are: the environmental health
problem investigators, the
environmental problem responders
and the health problem responders

Interdisciplinary Roles
Health problem investigators:
monitors populations to identify health
trends, in an attempt to distinguish that
which is harmful from that which is harmless
measures the range of effects of health trends
to characterize degrees of adverse intensity
identify potential hazards, potential pathways
of hazards, and populations susceptible to
hazards

Related Disciplines
Epidemiologists

Risk Assessors

Biostatisticians

Toxicologists

Microbiologists

Health Service
Administrators

Social Workers

Behavioral
Psychologists

Public Health
Educators

Interdisciplinary Roles
Environmental problem responders:
focus on the health hazard that has been
identified and characterized
analyze the environment of the exposed
population to see what controls are
needed and what controls can be
implemented to minimize risk of
recurrence and risk of future occurrence
where means of control does not exist, it
may be necessary to invent

Related Disciplines
Engineers

Risk Assessors

Biostatisticians

Toxicologists

Chemists

Biologists/
Microbiologists

Physicists

Mathematicians

Educators

Interdisciplinary Roles
Health problem responders:
focus on populations of individuals
attempt to identify how health is
adversely affected
classify severity of effect as either injury
or deleterious
attempt to restore compromised health to
a normal functional state

Related Disciplines
Medical
Doctors/Surgeons

Dentists

Biostatisticians

Nutritionists

Psychologists/
Psychiatrists

Nurses

Epidemiologist

Social Workers

Clinicians

Toxicologists

Pharmacists

Biologists/
Microbiologists

Physiologists

Mathematicians

Educators

Summary
Environmental health is the broadest
scope of health problem definition
Environmental health studies the impact
of the environment on populations
It is a population based science that can be
scaled to study individual within
populations
Problem definition and potential
resolution is possible through the
implementation of a systematic approach

About the Lecturer


Allison Robinson is a teaching assistant in the
Environmental and Occupational Health
Department at the University of Pittsburghs
Graduate School of Public Health in
Pittsburgh Pennsylvania. Currently, she is
earning on her doctorate degree in
Environmental Health. She has a Masters of
Environmental Science and Management.