Environmental health addresses all the physical, chemical, and biological factors external to a person, and all the related factors impacting behaviors. It encompasses the assessment and control of those environmental factors that can potentially affect health. It is targeted towards preventing disease and creating health-supportive environments (WHO, 2001). This is what the several articles and videos provided for the class help the student understand the importance of environmental health. Several videos of Dr. Vanadana where also an important part of the assignment, the objective of which are to raise awareness regarding such important issues regarding environmental health. The role of the nurse in the health of the environment is highlighted as each day nurses form an important part of the movement to solve these environmental issues.
The debate about whether global environmental change is real is now over; in its wake is the realization that it is happening more rapidly than predicted. These changes constitute a profound challenge to human health, both as a direct threat and as a promoter of other risks. Every day we hear on the news that a new disaster has occurred. Whether it is a natural disaster or one caused by man, most of humanity goes about their business. At least that is the way that it has been in the past. Things are changing, people and nations are becoming more aware of the environmental issues we are facing as the human race and how our home (earth) is being affected. Yet not much is done about it, it seems to be very inconvenient. Most times when we hear what is going on with the environment, we become concerned, but after a while we forget, we tend to think we can’t make a difference, after all we are only an insignificant person compared to the rest of the world, right? Environmental Health and Health Effects of Environmental
After reading and watching all these interesting articles and videos it reminds me that there is so much more we can do about the environment. In her videos Dr. Vanadana brings up very important points regarding the future of food, with things like genetic engineering of seeds that are patented and not available to everyone. She also talks about how the corporate world is taking over our decision of what to eat and how to eat it. She is also mentions how the future of our earth depends on how we save and use the natural resources. She makes a point on the fact that our actions can makes us or destroys us; they will have an impact on what our future generations will have available. We can also see how in the last few years the greening movement has achieved a tipping point in the U.S. There is a new and energized concern about the environment and its effects to the health of individuals, families, and communities.
Climate change is certainly topping the list. It is clear that there is scientific support that one’s environment has a direct impact on their health. Environmental factors affect human health in important ways, both positive and negative. Environmental factors sustain health, and promoting them is preventive medicine. Factors such as, sources of nutrition (farming: soil quality, water availability, biodiversity/bio-integrity, genetically modified organisms (GMOs); hunting, fishing: wildlife, fish populations.), water (drinking, cooking; cleaning / sanitation); air quality; ozone layer (protection from UV, cancers, etc); space for exercise and recreation; sanitation / waste recycling and disposal. Negative environmental factors are threats to health, and controlling them is public environmental health.
Some of those are, environmental conditions favoring disease vectors, environmental disruptions: floods, droughts, storms, fires, earthquakes, volcanoes; air quality: pollen and pollution leading to respiratory diseases or cancers; water quality: biotic and abiotic contaminants; integrity of water transport and treatment infrastructure; monitoring and management of municipal, agricultural, industrial outflows to the environment (gases, liquids, solid wastes); human changes of the environment that create conditions that favor disease; or disturb and release noxious levels of previously bound chemicals (e.g. mercury released becomes poison) or biota (e.g. methane released from thawed peat contributes to climate change); or create temporary, intense, life-threatening heat islands (e.g. urban heat waves exacerbated by climate change); and last but certainly not least disruption caused by other war and violence (“Environmental factors affecting,” 2004). Nurses are fierce defenders of their patients and communities.
They are also clear spokespeople and a powerful force as individuals. When working in unison and in collaborations and coalitions with nurses and non-nurses, nurses are even more powerful. Nurses represent an emerging citizen group that is concerned about a range of environmental risks which are affecting human health. They are not simply concerned. Many times they are absolutely outraged by the lack of attention being paid to the grave environmental health threats that we are all facing. It is this concern and energy that is must be captured and directed to create an exceptional voice for change in the environmental health arena. Nurses comprise the largest professional workforce in the health care sector. One in every one hundred Americans is a Registered Nurse. Nurses’ have capacity to influence decisions in their own households and, their communities. For example, nurses are involved with PTAs, faith-based institutions, and non-profit agencies, etc. Working in a variety of settings schools, clinics, homes, hospitals creates a unique opportunity to make change.
Many nurses are already actively involved in policy and advocacy work at the state and federal level. As nurses’ consciousness has been raised about environmental health risks, their roles in this arena are developing. Many nurses are working in their institutions and communities on environmental health issues. Some nurses have begun to recognize and act on the critical need to add nurses’ voices to the policy debates and campaigns about global warming, chemical policies, safer products, and other crucial, health-related policies. Given nurses’ deep and broad communication networks, nurses can be mobilized to meet with their local, state, and national elected officials.
Efforts to prep and send nurses to speak with their elected officials about such issues as coal-fired power plants and banning dangerous fire-retardant chemicals have been highly successful. Nurses are uniformly viewed as trusted, un-biased sources of information by policy-makers and the public (Walker, 2010). As nurses, we are concerned about what we can do individually and within our hospitals to reduce greenhouse gases. At the same time we have the human health threats associated with heat, weather extremes, drinking water shortages, and food security conditions that may ensue. We acknowledge the importance of tooling up for these critical events.
In addition, news has accumulated about products that are creating health risks to our families and communities. These hazards include toxic toys, flame retardants, pesticides, and even cosmetics. This news has resulted in an understanding that our overall health and safety policies regarding products and chemicals is in need of comprehensive repair. Nurses have joined several of the active state campaigns to address chemicals policy reform, including those in Washington, Maine, New York, Connecticut, Maryland, and Massachusetts (Walker, 2010).
When nurses advocate, they use the same framework learned as part of the basic nursing curriculum. First they assess the problem. In doing so, they must be diligent and rigorously scientific and evidence-based. They then determine an appropriate intervention – whether addressing the needs of individuals, families, or whole communities. They then plan and implement the intervention and follow that up with an evaluation to determine the efficacy of the intervention. Nurses have high level expertise in applying this assessment framework. However in the world of environmental health, most nurses have not learned about environmental health in their basic education, nor have they have been introduced to the range of credible sources of science (Walker, 2010).
It is clear that there is scientific support that one’s environment has a direct impact on their health. It is well known that nurses have a strong desire to work toward prevention of disease and disability rather than simply treating existing conditions. By providing nurses with the knowledge and skills around environmental health and enhancing their skills in this area, they will become powerful in the growing effort to improve the health of the environment. As one of the most trusted sources of health information in the country, nurses will also be able to influence their communities and states to make healthier decisions about policy affecting their environments. While there are efforts to develop a comprehensive, national chemical policy there is still much room for experimentation at the state level. Additionally, the state level campaigns help to build the grassroots constituents who will be necessary to pass more sweeping chemical policies at the national level.
Environmental factors affecting health. Athena Global, Retrieved from http://www.athenaglobal.com/pdf/7_environmental_factors Ecosystem Approaches to Human Health, IDRC
MCMICHAEL A.J., CAMPBELL-LENDRUM D.H., CORVALÁN C.F., EBI K.L., GITHEKO A., SCHERAGA J.D., WOODWARD A., Climate change and human health – risks and responses, WHO 2003, p. 250 http://www.who.int/globalchange/publications/cchhbook/en/ Walker, A. (2010). Activism is my rent for living on this planet. Unpublished raw data, School of Nursing, University of Maryland, USA Water for Health – Taking Charge, Report, WHO 2001