The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat, the places we work and the homes we live in – all aspects of our natural and human-made environment – have an impact on our health.
Complex interactions between human genetics and our physical surroundings can give rise to a variety of diseases and health conditions, from individual cases of asthma or cancer to headline-making news, such as e coli in bags of spinach or lead in children’s toys.
Making Our World a Little Safer
Environmental health professionals work to improve public health by identifying, tracking and addressing environmental risk factors. They go by many titles, including environmental health practitioner, environmental health officer and public health official. Most environmental health professionals specialize in a particular area, such as:
Reducing air, water, soil, noise or radiation pollution
Protecting our food supply
Improving safety in schools, public areas and the workplace
Ensuring safe living conditions in housing
Promoting public health with a focus on environmental hazards
Preventing and Mitigating Hazards
Prevention is a key focus of environmental health. Research, education, public policy, improved practices and new technologies developed by environmental health professionals help make our world cleaner and safer.
The work isn’t entirely regulatory. Many companies hire environmental health officers to monitor their internal processes and institute practices that will help protect workers and the public, while reducing the company’s potential liability.
Responding to Threats
When an environmental health threat is identified, the goal is to respond as quickly as possible to contain the hazard and mitigate the damage.
Many environmental hazards cannot be completely eliminated, so environmental health workers aim to reduce exposure, particularly for vulnerable populations such as children, sick people and the elderly.
A Team Effort that Crosses Borders
Environmental health professionals collaborate with and rely upon a wide range of professionals, including chemists, geologists, biologists, meteorologists, physicists, physicians and engineers as well as government officials and the media. The work is becoming increasingly international in scope, since environmental problems often extend beyond borders.
Individuals who succeed in this field tend to be team players with a strong interest in science, a commitment to the public welfare and an ability to see the big picture. The work is varied and interesting, and enables those in the field to apply science to making the world a better place.