Role of Environmental Health in Sustainable Communities

By Gonzales, Tom R.; McMillan, Mark | Journal of Environmental Health, June 2012 | Go to article overview

Role of Environmental Health in Sustainable Communities


Gonzales, Tom R., McMillan, Mark, Journal of Environmental Health


As a city or county manager, you are frequently asked by your citizens to make their government more sustainable. Usually they are asking you to implement a more economically sustainable government, especially during these challenging fiscal times. When you seek to carry out the citizens' wishes, what department or programs do you contact to assist you in this task? The most obvious would be your finance or budget department and perhaps your leadership team. However, have you ever considered contacting your environmental health program? I'm sure you're thinking ... why would I contact my environmental health program, aren't they just responsible for inspecting restaurants, pools, and septics? Actually, environmental health professionals do more than just inspections; they protect human health from detrimental conditions in the environment through education, consultation, and collaboration.

With respect to environmental health, we can define sustainability as "meeting the needs of the present generation without negatively impacting the environmental health of the future." NEHA states "environmental health and protection refers to protection against environmental factors that may adversely impact human health or the ecological balances essential to longterm human health and environmental quality (NEHA, 2010)." Therefore, sustainability's role in environmental health is to ensure that the actions of our current generation do not have negative impacts on the human health and environmental quality of the future.

Sustainable practices include energy consumption, water quality and quantity, agriculture, waste management, and urban design, which collectively play a pivotal role in maintaining environmental health for future generations (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2008). These sustainable practices furthermore lead to reduction in cost, thus generating a savings that can help reduce budget expenses. This is the link between environmental health and economics!

Energy sustainability is a complex issue that involves environmental, political, and economic implications. Sustainable energy can be defined as the provision of energy resources such that we are able to meet the energy needs of today without compromising future generations (Gohike, Hrynkow, & Portier, 2008). Unsustainable energy use has the potential to compromise future generations in several different ways. Energy resources could become depleted, which could in turn create serious political and economic consequences. Unsustainable energy consumption, which includes the burning of fossil fuels, is also known to have consequences including air pollution, water pollution, and land degradation.

Environmental health professionals are involved in many areas of water quality issues including water supply protection, the education and management related to waterborne diseases, beach water quality, wastewater reduction, potable water testing/reporting, and storm water management. Improving efficiency and conservation can be the most economically, politically, and environmentally responsible way to increase supply and save for the future (Frumkin, 2005).

Water conservation and education should be the main focus of any water sustainability efforts. Efficient home construction, appropriate land use planning, reduction in water waste, and community planning can all reduce costs and stresses on natural resources and help maintain quality of life. Adequate community education and design can significantly reduce water consumption. Efforts in resource management, such as conservation, water efficient homes and landscaping, and water banking can help alleviate some of the stresses on the water supply.

Environmental health professionals can promote water conservation and wastewater management and ensure clean water supplies by 1) informing policy makers and developers on the available treatment and conservation opportunities and processes available, 2) educating facilities, 3) using and promoting local success stories, and 4) the implementing relevant laws, acts, and regulations. …

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