The air we breathe; the water we drink; the land we build on and the homes we live in… numerous elements of our natural and man-made environment have the potential to affect our health. Our complex interactions with the environment and physical surroundings influence our genetics and health. The relationships we have with the environment can give rise to a variety of diseases and health conditions – including asthma, cancer, and food poisoning. Environmental health sciences professionals focus on identifying the relationships and risks of the physical environment around us on our health. They actively try to improve the public’s health addressing these environmental risk factors and putting in a concerted effort to mitigate the risks around us.
This is a wide-ranging, complex, and multifaceted profession, spanning chemistry, toxicology and engineering, among many other disciplines. While a wet-science background is appreciated it is by no means necessary to work in this field. For example, occupation health is a facet of environmental health yet does not always include chemical or toxic assessment, for example, construction workers or factory workers who work with heavy operational machinery every day. Like all public health fields, it also involves collaboration with and reliance upon other professionals, including chemists, geologists, biologists, meteorologists, physicists, physicians, engineers, human resources representatives, and even politicians.
When working in an environmental health science field you will be immersed in a “big picture” perspective of how environment and actions heavily affect our daily health. This is a good field for anyone who is interested.
In the wake of recent man-made and natural disasters, the US is placing a high priority on building up the nation’s public health workforce. Since 2002, Federal funding has increased for public health preparedness, including scholarship and loan repayment programs, workforce development grants, and funding for emergency preparedness. What does this mean for you? It means that with a degree in public health, you’ll be in high demand—and on a career path filled with advancement opportunities.
With a degree in environmental health, you can work in a wide range of jobs and work settings. For instance, you may work for an environmental health-related agency of the federal government, such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Center for Environmental Health (NCEH at CDC), the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), or the Food and Drug Administration (FDA).
Because environmental health is so broad in scope, it is often broken down by the type of risk factors you that may become a focus of your career. Common courses and environmental risk factors include:
- Air quality
- Food protection
- Radiation protection
- Solid waste management
- Hazardous waste management
- Water quality
- Noise control
- Environmental control of recreational areas
- Housing quality
- Vector control
A background in any of these of these topic areas is not required for graduate degrees in environmental health however some schools and programs may require specific science or mathematics courses prior to enrollment.
The Schools of Public Health Application Service (SOPHAS) is the centralized, online application service for all applicants applying to an accredited school of public health. To find accredited schools of public health with environmental health science programs, see the Association of Schools & Programs Public Health website.
- National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council
- Council on Education for Public Health
- American Public Health Association
- National Environmental Health Association
- Delta Omega
- National Board of Public Health Examiners