Environmental health is becoming a relevant topic for discussion as man-made and natural hazards are beginning to affect human well-being severely. The environment and surrounding that we live in can have a profound impact on health, both positively and negatively. This paper will discuss the basics of environmental health, factors that impact health, and the role of nurses in mitigating the issue.
Environmental Health Basics
Humans are constantly interacting with the environment, which inherently impacts health, quality of life, and can influence health disparities. The Healthy People 2020 environmental health objectives six themes that impact human health. These include outdoor air quality, groundwater quality, toxic substances, and hazardous waste, homes, and communities, infrastructure and surveillance, and global environmental health. The World Health Organization describes environmental health as “all the physical, chemical, and biological factors external to a person, and all the related behaviors” (Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, 2018, par. 2).
The themes outlined by the Healthy People 2020 initiative impact environmental quality to some extent, most commonly due to human activity. This leads to a degrading ecology that most negatively affects individuals with existing health problems. The concept of environmental health must focus on identifying and addressing socio-ecological factors which cause exposure and disease.
Factors Impacting Human Health
It is important to understand the link between the environment and human health, recognizing the complexities of an interdependent system with large-scale challenges. Some of the trends affecting human health are air pollution, water quality, noise, chemicals, social systems, and climate change. Air pollution presented one of the highest disease burdens, causing respiratory and cardiovascular conditions ranging from asthma to lung cancer. Particulate matter and carcinogen presence in most human environments remain high. Water quality is dependent on the collection and treatment of wastewater can affect drinking water by introducing toxic chemicals, eutrophication, and biological lifeforms.
Toxic chemicals in large amounts are present practically everywhere, including air, water, food, and soil. Systemic issues such as urbanization enhance vulnerability to health risks as people fail to receive the health benefits of natural environments. Finally, climate change is relatable to extreme weather, distribution of natural resources, and the spread of climate-sensitive diseases that are all human health hazards (European Environment Agency, 2015).
Role of Nurses
Nurses have a significantly important position in promoting and protecting public health in the context of environmental health issues. Through clinical practice, education, research, and advocacy, nurses can influence policies that aim at creating sustainable change and lifestyles with long-term impacts on behaviors of individuals and organizations. In communities, nurses can identify and assess community risks of environmental health without deviating from regular clinical practice. It is possible to use an interdisciplinary approach for the identification and mitigation of any health hazards in the community as well.
Nurses can serve as an educator by teaching individuals and families how to address environmental issues within their immediate surroundings. A nurse can demonstrate example and leadership by engaging in personal behaviors which support, clean, and reduce harm to the environment. A nurse is able to use her position to advocate for policy that protects the ecology and public health in instances of promoting sustainability and reducing exposure to toxic elements. Finally, a nurse can engage in research that focuses on environmental health issues and develop strategies to aid in finding solutions (Canadian Nurses Association, 2017).
It is evident that environmental factors can have long-lasting and detrimental impacts on human health. The air, water, food, and soil that we consume or interact with within daily life have become more toxic and led to burdens of disease. In order to address this issue, the socio-ecological relationships and practices within all contexts of human civilization should be considered. Nurses have a critical role in this matter; they are an important bridge between populations and policy.
Canadian Nurses Association. (2017). Nurses and environmental health. Web.
European Environment Agency. (2015). Health and environment. Web.
Office of Disease Prevention and Health Promotion. (2018). Environmental Health. Web.