Environment

Welcome to the APHA Environment Section

people outside fenced factory with smoke plumes  children playing in dirt pile

 

What is Environmental Health?

Environmental health is a core component of public health. We shape our built, social, and natural environments, and these environments also shape our well-being in countless ways.

The field of environmental health has evolved substantially over the last century from a focus on sanitation and engineering to a more holistic framework of planetary health. New perspectives, tools, methods, and policies have led to increased environmental protections overall with increased emphasis on vulnerable populations. However, environmental health professionals continue to tackle many new and age-old challenges related to:

  • air and water pollution,
  • food access and safety,
  • occupational health,
  • disaster preparedness, and
  • waste and water infrastructure.

Further, layered atop nearly all of these issues, the field must grapple with major environmental health inequities that persist and society's most pressing environmental health threat: climate change.

The experience of the COVID-19 pandemic alongside global climate change has emphasized that environmental health professionals must anticipate and address a range of constant and emerging threats. The field’s analytical toolkit has expanded, with the ability to examine issues—from the cellular level to the epigenome, from the individual level to community and global scales. All of this work must reflect the assets, needs, and vision of those most impacted by environmental health risks. This entails increasingly sophisticated environmental epidemiological and toxicological approaches combined with other social science, community-led, and action-oriented approaches. Looking forward, environmental health increasingly needs cross-sector workforce development, intergenerational perspectives and dialogue, and an interdisciplinary public health curriculum.

Towards a Shared Plain Language 

Environmental health professionals must also strive to find a common plain language to increase environmental health literacy and accessibility of our work. All public health professionals, as well as those in related sectors such as planning, housing, transportation, and education, must recognize their role in protecting environmental health. Plain language is necessary so that individuals, communities, and organizations can protect themselves when federal, state, and local policies do not. This is also necessary so advocates and policymakers have the information they need to make policy or programmatic changes and assure their effectiveness towards environmental health equity.

Addressing Environmental Racism to Achieve Health Equity

Threaded through all of this, environmental health professionals have a key role to play in addressing environmental racism, whereby Black, Brown, Indigenous, and low-wealth communities continue to experience disproportionate exposures and cumulative impacts. Moving forward, we must ensure the field's practices, policies, and research are truly anti-racist. Learn more about what public health professionals can do to address environmental racism here.