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What is Environmental Health?

Cape Cod as seen from the Internation Space Station on March 18, 2010. (Courtesy of NASA)

Cape Cod as seen from the International Space Station on March 18, 2010. (Courtesy of NASA)

Good environmental health happens when the places in which we live, learn, work, and play are safe and free from hazards that can affect people’s wellbeing. A range of factors contributes to healthy environments: for example, affordable, safe, and secure housing that promotes good health and reduces our risks of injury; economically vital neighborhoods that foster strong business practices, good jobs, and safe communities; clean air and water, so we don’t contract preventable illnesses; food that is safe for human consumption; and safe parks and pathways that encourage outdoor activities and exercise.

As a nation, we have a responsibility to sustain healthy environments for all Americans; it’s a complex job, and to get it done, we rely on a network of professionals who are trained to identify potential problems in conditions upstream from our daily lives and solve them before they cascade downstream, where they can pose a threat to our health.

Upstream Environments / Downstream Health

We all live “downstream” from a range of environmental factors that affect our health. By ourselves, we can’t control all the things that happen “upstream” in our environments, but there are people who specialize in studying, inspecting, and working upstream. We need these environmental health workers to pay attention to what is happening upstream, and ensure that what eventually flows downstream is healthy and safe.

We need to devote more resources to places and populations that are facing the greatest threats. When we invest in upstream inspections to make sure that the foods being delivered to all Americans are safe and healthy, we invest in healthy communities. It’s not enough to catch problems downstream, once people become ill. We need to have a wide array of environmental health professionals use their expertise to catch problems before they occur. And we need rules that make sure the products we get have been inspected well in advance of our use.