Environmental Health and Protection: Century 21 Challenges

By Gordon, Larry J. | Journal of Environmental Health, January-February 1995 | Go to article overview

Environmental Health and Protection: Century 21 Challenges


Gordon, Larry J., Journal of Environmental Health


Editor's Note: Larry Gordon, Visiting Professor for the School of Public Administration at the University of New Mexico and 1961 Mangold Award recipient delivered this keynote presentation to the California Environmental Health Association on October 13, 1994. We felt it insightful and purposeful as we look toward the future of the profession of environmental health and protection.

The challenges of building and travelling bridges, defining the field, organizational and programmatic diversity, mission performance, programming for priorities, risk assessment, risk communication, competencies for practitioners, continuing education, the primacy of prevention, creative financing, action for environmental policy, and leadership for Century 21 are among the priority challenges to be confronted by environmental health and protection practitioners to be prepared to insure a quality environment for Century 21.

CHALLENGE: Building and Travelling Bridges

The terminology "environmental health and protection", rather than "environmental health" or "environmental protection", is indicated. This terminology is useful because both efforts exist for the same public health reasons, varying in the titles of the administering agencies. All such agencies are public health agencies, just as a health department is one type of health agency. It is important that attempts be made to build and travel bridges between all the various interests involved in the struggle for environmental quality, rather than building walls and protecting turf through terminology, attitudes, or actions.

Effective environmental health and protection programs depend on developing and utilizing constantly travelled communication bridges and network processes, connecting a wide variety of groups and agencies involved in the struggle for a quality environment and enhanced public health. A few such agencies and interests include: planning; land use; energy production; transportation; resource development; the medical community; news media; public works officials; agriculture; conservation; engineering; architecture; colleges and universities; product design and development; economic development; chambers of commerce; environmental groups; professional, trade, and industry groups; and elected officials. These relationships should be a matter of organizational policy and should be institutionalized rather than being left to chance or personalities.

Environmental health and protection services are integral components of the continuum of health services. They are essential precursors to the efficacy of the other components of the health services continuum. Other health services include personal public health services (population-based disease prevention and health promotion), as well as healthcare (diagnosis, treatment, and rehabilitation of a patient under care on a one-on-one basis).

CHALLENGE: Defining the Field

There is only vague agreement regarding a definition for the field of environmental health and protection. Regrettably, definitions frequently tend to reflect the scope of responsibilities of some specific agency.

Recently, I had the opportunity to discuss the issue of the environmental health and protection scope with the director of one of the largest local departments of health services in the world. He viewed environmental health and protection as the programmatic scope of environmental health and protection within his department, despite the fact that air pollution control had once been a health department responsibility that had been transferred to a special regional district some 40 years earlier. The individual had no institutional knowledge of this occurrence and said he had never thought of air pollution control as environmental health and protection. Had air pollution still been a responsibility of his department, I feel certain he would have considered it to be a high priority environmental health and protection issue. …

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