Environmental Health Sciences

Environmental Health Sciences is the study of how environmental conditions affect the health of a human population. It is concerned with assessing and controlling the factors in the natural and man-made environment that influence public health.

Environmental Health Sciences is perhaps one of the largest and most far-reaching competencies of public health, and encompasses a range of topics.

The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) is an excellent resource for learning more about the intersections between populations’ health and their environments.

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Environmental health topics cover a seemingly limit range of specific issues, including air and water pollution, sustainability, global warming, agricultural health, occupational health, radiation poisoning, poison control, drug testing, environmental causes of cancer, pesticides, asbestos exposure, hazardous waste, oil spills, and many more. Each of these have direct impacts on public health, and NIEHS identifies the main environmental health topics as:

  • Conditions and diseases (those strongly connected to environmental causes)
  • Environmental agents (exposure to substances, chemicals, or radiation that have adverse health effects)
  • Exposure routes (the ways in which people are exposed to environmental agents)
  • Environmental science basics (areas of study that investigate the specific interactions between humans and the environment)
  • Population research (the study of how populations are influenced by environmental conditions.

The Association of Schools of Public Health (ASPH) defines environmental health sciences specifically as “the study of environmental factors including biological, physical and chemical factors that affect the health of a community.” To demonstrate competency in this discipline, an MPH student must be able to:

  • “Describe the direct and indirect human, ecological and safety effects of major environmental and occupational agents.”
  • “Describe genetic, physiologic and psychosocial factors that affect susceptibility to adverse health outcomes following exposure to environmental hazards.”
  • “Describe federal and state regulatory programs, guidelines and authorities that control environmental health issues.”
  • “Specify current environmental risk assessment methods.”
  • “Specify approaches for assessing, preventing and controlling environmental hazards that pose risks to human health and safety.”
  • “Explain the general mechanisms of toxicity in eliciting a toxic response to various environmental exposures.”
  • “Discuss various risk management and risk communication approaches in relation to issues of environmental justice and equity.”
  • “Develop a testable model of environmental insult.”

As one of the largest areas of public health, concentrating in or focusing on environmental health sciences opens the door to a multitude of careers in public health. You can work for government departments, environmental advocacy groups, automobile manufacturers, international health groups, technology developers, research societies, pharmaceutical companies–there are so many possibilities! NIEHS offers valuable career and training opportunities to help guide you in choosing the career that is right for you. To give you an idea, the Bureau of Labor Statistics’ Occupational Outlook Handbook projects that the job outlook for environmental scientists will increase by 19% between 2010 and 2020. For more specific information about careers, visit our Public Health Jobs page.