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Environmental health practice 

Environmental health practice
Chapter:
Environmental health practice
Author(s):

Lynn R. Goldman

and Elma B. Torres

DOI:
10.1093/med/9780199218707.003.0098
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date: 06 December 2019

Environmental health practice occurs within the context of physical, chemical, biological, social, and psychosocial processes in the environment that impact health, and actions to modify these factors to promote health for present and future generations. There are many professional disciplines and players in the environmental health practice arena, all of whom have important roles in the process. Environmental health practice is a three-phase process involving health impact assessment, policy development, and assurance that action is taken. Developing countries have a greater focus on prevention of infectious diseases and on efforts to reduce poverty, but their priorities are shifting along with economic transitions. Prevention of global environmental impacts is of increasing priority.

Several international policy goals have been adopted in principle, including sustainable development, the precautionary principle, and the concept of ‘polluter pays’. Policy approaches include: Use of best available technology to control pollution, requirements for environmental impact reviews, consideration of economic impacts and equity (environmental justice), and ability to address issues across entire ecosystems. Assuring that policies are carried out largely depends on the strength of the rule of law in a country. Approaches include command and control, pollution prevention, and environmental monitoring. More recently, countries have increased the use of ‘right-to-know’ approaches. Environmental education plays an important role in strengthening the awareness and role of individuals. Increasingly, international agreements are being used to curb harmful environmental practices, for example, the Montreal Protocol to phase out ozone-depleting chemicals. Such global capacity building is occurring on a number of fronts, for example, control of greenhouse gases and management of chemical in commerce.

The rapid pace of global change, including, population growth, economic globalization, natural resource depletion, and climate change, is creating challenges for environmental health practice, even as economic transitions are creating new opportunities in developing countries.

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