Humanity lives in the time of rapid progress nowadays. People are surrounding themselves with modern gadgets, which were invented to make their lives easier; scientific discoveries are unbelievable. However, the world is facing probably the most pressing problem today which people all around the globe do not know how to solve. This problem is air and water pollution and other environmental damage. There are a lot of factors that affect human health and cause numerous health problems, but the impact of the environment is the most important. The term environmental health refers specifically to public health that relates to the relationships between people and the natural and built environment.
The first thing to be considered is environmental health. According to the National Environment Health Association (n.d.), “environmental health is the science and practice of preventing human injury and illness and promoting well-being by identifying and evaluating environmental sources and hazardous agents and limiting substances hazardous to human health” (para. 1). Environmental health is aimed at reducing chemical, physical, and biological agents in environmental media to protect people. Environment health is based on three independent disciplines: environmental epidemiology, toxicology, and exposure science. Each of these disciplines describes health problems that refer to the environment.
It goes without saying that human health directly depends on Earth and its environment. The impact of environmental factors on human health can be positive and negative. Positive environmental factors such as soil quality, water availability, biodiversity, and ozone layer as a protector from ultraviolet radiation contribute to health. However, there are some negative factors, which are considered as threats. As it is described by Brown (2013), “diseases in some part are caused by environmental factors, even though environmental factors may interact with genetic predispositions or with some personal behaviors” (p. 2). The environment can be divided into three main elements. It contains physical, chemical, and biological components, which have different effects on human health.
The first element (physical) refers to physical hazards. The brightest example of physical hazards is electromagnetic and ionizing radiation. Ultraviolet radiation is a part of the electromagnetic spectrum. Excessive solar radiation contributes to the abnormal growth of skin cells, which lead to the development of skin cancers such as melanoma, carcinoma, and others. Moreover, ultraviolet radiation causes eye diseases such as cataract and inflammation of the cornea (photokeratitis) and conjunctiva (photoconjunctivitis). However, there is a positive side. Lucas et al. (2015) state, “ultraviolet radiation is a potent environmental disinfectant able to inactivate viruses in clear water” (p. 69). Although environment can be a cause of illness, it often acts as a cure for a lot of diseases.
Apart from this, there are some chemical hazards. One of these hazards is air and water pollution. Cars and buses release gasses into the air as well as different plants and factories do during manufacturing processes. Some of these emissions are extremely dangerous for people. Products of coal combustion and other harmful pollutants have a significant impact on human health and environment in general. For example, smoke produced by combustion of fuels affects human lungs and causes such diseases as asthma, bronchitis, and others. What is more, the risk of mortality and morbidity in the elderly population is increasing because of such harmful emissions. Furthermore, chemicals increase the risk of cancers.
Besides, biological hazards are part of the environment too. There is quite a mixed variety of biological hazards which could significantly affect human health. They are characterized by biological substances that endanger the health of people. For instance, medical wastes, viruses, and toxins affect human health. The main biological hazards are the contamination of drinking water and allergies. Contaminations cause diarrhoeal diseases, while a lot of allergens can cause asthma and allergic rhinitis.
In addition to physical, chemical, and biological factors that affect the quality of air, water, soil, and food, there are social, economic, cultural, and political components in the environment. There is a strong connection between health and social and economic factors. They refer to education and employment. People who live in poverty have more health problems than those who live an abundant life. Apart from this, public policy and laws affect the health status of people. Also, cultural factors influence health due to traditions, habits, and the beliefs of a particular society.
The Role of Nurses in Improving Environmental Hazards
There is no doubt that nurses play a vital role in delivery health care; they are the basic unit of the whole healthcare system. Firstly, the importance of the environment in promoting health was recognized by Florence Nightingale, a social reformer and foundational philosopher of modern nursing. Shea and Whitlia (2015) cites Nightingale “[nursing] ought to signify the proper use of fresh air, light, warmth, cleanliness, quiet, and the proper selection and administration of diet – all at least expense of vital power to the patient” (p. 520). Florence Nightingale significantly affected the health care system in the 19th and 20th centuries.
An inappropriate environment is considered to be a barrier to health. Environmental barriers refer to medical care that directly influence patient safety. Nurses contribute greatly to improving environmental barriers. For instance, reducing medical waste and providing necessary environmental information to patients are one of the nurses’ main responsibilities. Nurses play a key role in eliminating the negative impact of medical waste on the environment. What is more, there are some barriers to effective communication. To overcome them, nurses have to develop their communication skills and professional knowledge.
Nowadays, there are some principles of environmental health for nurses. According to the American Nursing Association (2007) the key principles of nursing practice are: “knowledge of environmental health is essential; healthy environments are sustained through multidisciplinary collaboration; nurses participate in research of practices that promote a safe and healthy environment; nurses must be supported in implementing environmental health principles in nursing practice” (p. 16). Following these principles, nurses will be able to improve environmental barriers to health. Apart from this, to fight against environmental hazards, it is necessary to set up partnerships and collaborations with different medical organizations all across the globe. Information is the most valuable factor in the modern society. It is important to share knowledge, experiences, and ideas with foreign colleagues to establish successful international healthcare system.
To sum up, environmental health is a branch of public health. It refers to the relationships between the natural and built environment and its impact on human health. Environmental factors that affect human health can be categorized into a few types. There are both positive and negative environmental factors. Environmental factors can be divided into three groups: physical, chemical, and biological factors. They are directly linked to the quality and safety of air, water, soil, and food. Also, there are other environmental factors such as social, economical, political, and cultural. Florence Nightingale, who created the modern nursing system, identified the significance of the environment in promoting health. Nowadays, nurses play a key role in improving environmental barriers to health. The American Nursing Association released a set of principles for nurses that determine public health nursing activities. To fight environmental hazards, it is important not only to follow the rules and principles but also to cooperate with foreign medical organizations and associations.
American Nursing Association (2007). ANA’s principles of environmental health for nursing practice with implementation strategies. Web.
Brown. P. (2013). Toxic exposures: Contested illnesses and the environmental health movement. New York, NY: Columbia University Press.
Lucas, R. M., Norval, M., Neale, R. E., Young, A. R., De Gruijl, F. R., Takizawa, Y., & Van Der Leun, J. C. (2015). The consequences for human health of stratospheric ozone depletion in association with other environmental factors. Photochemical & photobiological sciences, 14(1), 53-87.
National Environment Health Association. (n.d.). Definitions of environmental health. Web.
Shea, V., & Whitla, W. (2014). Victorian literature: An anthology. John Wiley & Sons.