The influence of humanity on the planet is striking. Year by year scientists are getting sad statistics concerning the damage people do to the environment. It resulted in coining a term “environmental science” and continuous research made by scientists in order to prevent complete devastation of the Earth. A lot of works have been devoted to the topic of environmental health and ways of fighting with negative consequences of human influence. Although some effects are hard to prevent, nurses, as essential members of the healthcare system, are supposed to deeply understand environmental risks and share this knowledge with others.
To begin with, environmental health is a part of environmental science, which concerns “relationships and interactions between biotic and abiotic factors or systems” (Bradley et al., 2014, n. p.). This science is becoming essential for global development, as maintenance of civilization requires conscious consumption of natural resources. This consciousness is impossible without understanding environmental processes and their connection with the influence of nature on humanity.
The definition of environmental health given by CTI Reviews (2016) is the following: “Environmental health is concerned with all aspects of the natural and built environment that may affect human health” (p. 53). In general, it includes the evaluation and control of all chemical, biological or any other kind of physical factors that can possibly affect human health. A correct approach to maintaining environmental health is important not only at the moment but also for future generations. The quality of their lives depends on human behavior now.
The term “environment” includes our daily locations: school, office, park near the house, along with air, water and soil. Although one might feel secure in his area, it does not mean there is nothing to worry about. For instance, throwing out the garbage frequently in the river leads to its pollution. The water filters cannot cope with it, and later, people either drink this water themselves or do harm to marine animals. Hence, maintaining clean water, air and soil becomes a matter of respect for humans who want to provide a decent future for the next generations.
Nowadays, care for the environment is on the agenda among politicians and ecologists. The latest international summit meetings were mostly devoted to this topic, and the debate is becoming more and more fierce. Population growth does not correlate with the planet’s capabilities in terms of resources. Thus, those who are in charge have to assess the current situation, take measures, and formulate policies which will guide people to sustainable consumption and eco-friendly lifestyle.
Impact of environmental changes on health
Certain environmental effects on people have become a topic of debate for many scientists and healthcare workers. According to CTI Reviews (2016), “health effects (or health impacts) are changes in health resulting from exposure to the source” (p. 55). Bradley et al. (2014) suggest that there are point and nonpoint sources (n. p.). Point sources are more obvious and identifiable, like a gas pipe of a factory, and can be controlled. As for non-point sources, they are harder to distinguish, because they release contaminants in multiple ways. In both cases, contamination leads to environmental changes, from floods to volcanic eruptions, which inevitably affect people’s lives.
Besides, natural disasters are not the only threat to health and life. The global spread of pollution results in local issues. The emission of toxic chemicals at a local factory can cause serious breathing diseases among locals and affect their health in general. Higher than normal concentration of some substances is the right sign of pollution, and unfortunately, the first victims of this phenomenon are usually people.
Apart from air pollution, the persistent soil contamination can severely damage people’s health, especially if the soil is used for massive food production. Soil collects lead, toxic pesticides and non-organic fertilizers which eventually get into our plates. These chemicals in the human body lead to headaches, skin rash, and tough diseases like cancer or leukemia. Taking measures to avoid these consequences is necessary. Bradley et al. (2014) illustrate one experiment as an example: polluted soil was changed for the clean soil in residential gardens (p. 43). Later, the screening showed that the lead level in blood of the locals reduced. Hence, earlier prevention is in the best interests of everyone.
How a Nurse Can Improve and Eliminate Environmental Barriers to Health
According to Maurer and Smith (2013), “it is essential that health professionals consider the environment in relation to the health of their clients and to understand the nature of risk as it pertains to the environment” (p. 236). In other words, a nurse is supposed to assess the potential environmental risk that her patient faced. This knowledge can help to find the reason for the disease. Any extra information concerning place and conditions of living can be a clue to the right treatment of the patient, so a nurse should be aware of them.
As far as nurses are one of the most trustworthy sources of information for the public, the mission of sharing knowledge about the prevention of environmental risks heavily depends on them. Stanhope and Lancaster (2014) represented the main principles of environmental health for nursing practice in the list, which makes this mission clear (p. 98). It includes “The Precautionary Principle,” which means using only environmentally-safe products; knowledge of the main concepts of environmental health; “multidisciplinary collaboration” to create a sustainable environment; promotion of healthy environment values and beliefs among patients. Also, they suggest that healthcare workers are responsible for the constant assessment of the environment, and have a right to know about potentially risky products or “hazards to which they are exposed” (p. 98).
Another similar approach was offered by Maurer and Smith (2013) who gave a more detailed description of nursing models (p. 236). For instance, a nurse should be able to differ chemical, biological, or radiological risks; assess specific exposures (gardening with pesticides or unusual personal cosmetics); understand particular symptoms that might be a sign of earlier negative environmental exposure. In other words, a nurse should be a professional who is familiar with all potential environmental risks to be able to help the patient.
To sum up, the major principle of maintaining environmental health is to collectively respect nature and treat it in an eco-friendly way. Therefore, the possibility of negative effects on human health will be diminished. The rapid growth of population makes environmental changes one of the most critical issues, and their impact should not be underestimated. Nurses can be public providers of necessary knowledge about the environmental risks and health. Thus, they can eliminate side effects of global pollution and improve the quality of lives of their patients.
Bradley, N., Harrison, H., Hodgson, G., Kamanyire, R., Kibble, A., & Murray, V. (2014). Essentials of environmental public health science: A Handbook for field professionals. Oxford, UK: OUP Oxford.
CTI Reviews. (2016). Essentials of environmental health: Medicine, healthcare. UK: Cram 101 Textbook Reviews.
Maurer, F. A., & Smith, C. M. (2013). Community/Public health nursing practice: Health for families and populations. St. Louis, MO: Elsevier Health Sciences.
Stanhope, M., & Lancaster, J. (2014). Public health nursing: Population-centered healthcare in the community. Maryland Heights, MO: Elsevier Health Sciences.