The public health domain has in recent times been vexed by rising concerns of negative impacts of abiotic and biotic factors in the environment on health and wellness of populations. In the recent past, governments across the globe have convened in major cities such as Stockholm, Geneva and Kyoto, and the outcomes of these conventions have led to them drafting and signing numerous documents and charters. These documents committed the signatories to addressing environmental issues at the individual country level with the aim of harnessing global efforts made to curb environmental degradation and the associated negative effects it may have on the health of the masses.
In 2012, for instance, the US National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) publicized the NIEHS 2012-2017 strategic plan that comprised a description of the themes and 11 specific strategic goals (NIEHS). Literature from regional bodies such as the UN cites poverty and economic development as the paradoxes of environmental health. In fact, poverty aggravates the effects of biological agents such as the lack of water and sanitation. On the other hand, economic advancements impact public health through increased exposure to chemical toxins.
Evidently, developing and developed nations are faced with a spectrum of environmental health issues. While developing nations try to handle problems relating to diseases caused by poor sanitation and improper treatment of waste, the situation in developed nations is aggravated by the high number of health issues caused by increased emissions and exposure to associated contaminants (Kjellen). Thus, this paper seeks to address various environments and associated health concerns, the environmental burden of diseases, and an insight into how the society should respond to the future concerns of the environment and health.
Environmental Threats to Health
The threats to human and animal health are inherent in the abiotic and biotic components of the environment (Brennan and Lo; Kjellen). Among such components are air, water, soil, transport, and industries among others. Therefore, it is reasonable to provide a comprehensive account of the threats people face from the environment, while analyzing the home, work and broader environments and addressing health concerns relating to each of them.
The Home Environment
Environmental issues at home and in the neighborhoods are more threatening in developing countries than they are in developed nations. Importantly, these problems are not long-term, as opposed to the issues linked to the entity of global changes in environmental trends. Talking about the main category of those who are hardly influenced by these trends at home, it comprises children and the aged (Kjellen). Moreover, women are among the most active players due to their vital roles as homemakers rather than industrial players. Women are the organizers of homes and neighborhoods who are spending much of their time as home tenders and home caretakers. In order to better understand the peculiarities of the home environment, it is vital to analyze some key components influencing one’s health.
Water and Sanitation
The oral-fecal route (gullet) is the most basic path through which health issues related to poor water, hygiene and sanitation manifest themselves in the human body (Kjellen 19-20). The gut and the related organs are the ones that are hit first by adverse effects of contamination of water. Water-borne diseases in the Third–World countries are occasionally heard to reach fever pitch due to improper handling of water or the lack of it. Diarrhea and dysentery are diseases that are solely associated with factors of poor hygiene and sanitation as well as limited access to clean water and food. The developing world is seriously affected by this, and most of the people, especially in rural areas, have no or insufficient access to piped water.
The hardships of water acquisition cause women and children to forgo other duties and dedicate their time to gathering water, some of which is not fit for consumption so that people have to obtain it very long distances from their residences. Urban areas are characterized by water piping, but it is considerably influenced by shortages and rationing. In the case of poorly urbanized set-ups such as slums and shanties, the problem is compounded by overcrowding, poverty and improper disposal of human waste. Accordingly, all these factors make health provision much more tasking and expensive compared to places where these facilities are operational and well-instituted. Thus, this means that the availability of water and its usage are very vital in taking steps towards the provision of better health to the public, especially in the Third World.
Poor Housing and Overcrowding in Urban Areas
The phenomena of overcrowding and poor housing are highly observed in the Third-World nations (Kjellen). High population growth rates and increased rural-urban migration compounded by the lack of employment and low levels of income have yielded issues of sustenance and management in the urban areas. Low-income earners in urban areas are confined in areas with associated crowding as well as poor water and sanitation facilities (NIEHS). The strain and crowding only serve to accelerate the rate of disease and infection transmission in case of an outbreak.
Kjellen and NIEHS agree that homes serve as crucial shelter, as they shield people from the adversaries of rain, extreme temperatures, and wind. Low-income families that cannot afford decent housing are, thus, not adequately protected from the said extremes, thereby being exposed to health risks associated with the given weather extremes such as pneumonia, colds, and flu (Kjellen; NIEHS). In the case of crowded households, the risk is also aggravated due to increased interactions, dampness and high concentration of pollutants. In cases when the home becomes or is used as a cottage enterprise to earn the families a living, then children are exposed to risks such as cuts and burns and other contaminants.
Chemicals such as those contained in consumer products (unknown) and those in insecticides, aerosols, fumigants, paints and thinners pose a health risk because they are toxic (Kjellen; NIEHS). Poisoning, especially talking about such ignorant users as children, is highly likely to be experienced. Moreover, there is a strong possibility that long-term exposure to these contaminants will be detrimental, similar to the case of large-scale commercial agriculture where workers are exposed to contaminants, leading to extremes such as bronchitis and cancer. Secondary exposure is also experienced through contact with the soil and water that becomes indirectly polluted by these chemicals. Food exposed to these contaminants and the one that is not properly handled or cleaned is also an avenue toward contamination of the human organism. Furthermore, housing materials such as asbestos roofing are likely routes of contamination, as reported by the World Health Organization (WHO) (Kjellen).
Low-income regions are the worst affected areas, especially due to the apparent ignorance of people in such settings or their inability to afford proper materials or gear to protect themselves. Evidently, exploitation of people who earn little by firms such as cement manufacturers and flower farmers make matters worse. Apparently, there is also the danger of precarious locations for houses such as beneath high power transmission lines, exposing dwellers to intensified electromagnetic radiations, or houses built very close to highways and railroads, making inhabitants face increased accident risks and noise pollution.
Indoor Air Pollution
Kjellen argues that populations may be exposed to air contamination both at the indoor and outdoor settings; however, regardless of the setting, this exposure to contaminants critically impacts human health. Proper ventilation at home becomes very crucial in this case. Talking about, for instance, indoor cooking using smoky fuels in poorly ventilated rooms, occupants of these rooms are exposed to high degrees of contamination. Women and young children who are never far from their mother are, thus, prone to inhale very high contents of smoke. The combustion of carbon-based fuels means that people near the areas where the burning is happening are likely to inhale some smoke. The grading pyramid of fuels used in households has clean fuels such as electricity at the top tier and crop residue at the bottom tier. Fuels at the bottom are used by over 80% of rural populations, meaning that at least 75% of rural populations are exposed to contaminated inhalation (Kjellen). The LPG and electricity fuels at the top are a reserve of the affluent society members totaling only a meager 5% of the population (Kjellen).
The Work Environment
The census reports that had been released by the close of the 20th century indicated that over 50% of the population was either formally or informally employed (Kjellen). In fact, this could be positive regarding economic boom, but it also means exposure to work-related injuries and diseases. Despite the economic gains associated with high employment, there is also an inherent burden of occupation-related injuries, diseases, and consequential fatalities. The workplace exposes workers to injuries, chemical and biological pathogens and noise. Repetitive strenuous jobs weaken muscles, while job competition and insecurity cause mental strains.
The Pesticide Menace. About 75% of the global use of pesticides is associated with large-scale commercial agriculture in North America, Far East and Western Europe dominated by the wide use of herbicides (Kjellen). The Third World is not a large-scale pesticide user, though most nations in this tier use insecticides which are more toxic. Moreover, insecticides used in the latter case are usually old, highly poisonous and broad-spectrum in nature (Kjellen). It is also noted that some banned substances in developed nations are still in use in their developing counterparts. Thus, poisoning is the highly rated threat associated with the use of pesticides. Second, the prolonged exposure to contaminants leads to irritation and respiratory complications. In cases when there is a large spray swath, there is associated collateral damage to people and even food. These insecticides also get dissolved in rainwater, leading to contamination of non-secured water reservoirs.
Mental and Stress-Related Menace. Kjellen contends that the workforce, especially in developing countries, is usually prone to job insecurities due to the scarcity of the same in these countries (24). In retrospect, this implies that those employees work under not-so-friendly conditions. Although they are underpaid, they cannot risk talking about it because they can easily get replaced. Sometimes, the low income takes a toll on workers who cannot meet their needs and the needs of those who are dependent on them (Kjellen).
Physical Injuries Menace
In Kjellen’s work, it is further argued that the manufacturing sector is worst hit by the associated risk of physical injuries that workers are likely going to sustain according to the type of work they do (25). Usually, heavy lifting can cause muscular strains and sprains, damage to internal organs and even death if lifting is done incorrectly. Accidents due to exposed machines and moving machine parts are yet another threat. Agricultural workers are also highly exposed to this menace (Kjellen). Importantly, this problem can further be compounded by ignorance, poverty and poor nutrition and hygiene. The stage would have been different if proper behavioral and management practices were put in place. Proper safety regulations also tend to be ignored by firms, exposing workers to risks.
Exposure to Biological Agents
Health care workers are the worst exposed to the detriments of this menace. Talking about other susceptible groups, they include those who work as garbage collectors, those handling exhausted services and human excreta disposal and incineration of medical waste. The menial work profile scares many people, and those who perform such duties are sometimes not properly geared to protect themselves from the imminent danger of conducting tasks connected especially with raw sewage or medical waste (Kjellen). The integrity of workers and the dignity of their work are often compromised.
The Broader Environment
With regard to the broader environment, it is necessary to cover the abiotic related issues of environmental health and their direct and indirect impacts majorly.
The threat, in this case, is dependent on waste and the degree to which human beings have been exposed to this waste. This waste includes waste from industries, medical waste, household waste, and sewage (Kjellen). The interplay of this waste in the environment exposes children and the allied workers handling the solid waste. The most adversely impacted are urban areas, and poverty plays a vital role due to the effect that solid waste has, as discussed earlier in the home environment section. The disposal of waste also generates another menace, especially if it is non-biodegradable like plastic bags and cans (Kjellen; “Ecological Footprint Quiz”). Foul smell and odor are also other issues of solid waste. Methane gas from decomposing solid waste is a greenhouse gas.
Transportation on many occasions has been cited as amongst the leading sources of carbon emissions due to the use of fossil fuels. The biggest detriment is, thus, high carbon emissions from vehicles, ships, and planes (“Ecological Footprint Quiz”). Furthermore, these instruments of transport are generators of huge amounts of noise, leading to discomforts and more critically, there are numerous accidents associated with transport causing injuries and deaths of people (Kjellen). Leaded fuels are also cited as lead sources of lead contaminations and exposure to cancerous manifestations (NIEHS).
Outdoor Air Pollution
The problem of emissions is seen to be the biggest player in the associated outdoor air pollution. The emissions are in most cases the same as those released indoors while cooking or operating simple machinery such as generators (Kjellen; NIEHS). The level of the threat could be low due to the exposure to the outer atmospheric players, meaning that most of these compounds are not inhaled. However, urbanized areas are likely to be adversely affected due to higher concentrations of the compounds and interpersonal interactions.
The alterations that are currently being observed in the traditional terrains of weather due to the apparent rise in global temperatures associated with a myriad of human and natural activities has also had a huge impact on public health. The greenhouse effect resulting from the accumulation of greenhouse gasses in the upper layers of the atmosphere has led to some health concerns (Kjellen). Moreover, this has been compounded by the depletion of the ozone layer, thereby exposing the Earth to harmful UV rays from the sun (Kjellen). What this means is that populations are more susceptible to harmful radiation that could lead to skin cancer, miscarriages, and skin-related problems among others as well as environmental hazards such as glaciers melting leading to raised sea levels which would, in turn, cause flooding and submersion of islands.
Major Environment-Related Health Problems
The combination of the factors described above has yielded such potentially life-threatening diseases as diarrhea diseases, namely cholera and dysentery (Kjellen). Respiratory diseases such as tonsillitis, colds, sore throats, bronchitis, tuberculosis, pneumonia and COPD as well as vector-borne diseases, namely malaria, bilharzia, and typhoid can develop as a result of environmental issues (Kjellen). Lastly, there is the disease that has taken the globe by storm that is cancer, which could affect the mouth, throat or even skin (Kjellen 39). Furthermore, other diseases such as zoonotic diseases are on the rise, and their prevalence has become an all-time high due to natural and artifactual interactions with environmental hazards (Kjellen; NIEHS).
Looking into the Future of Environmental Health
Looking forward, it is worth noting that there has been a remarkable gain in health and economy over the last century (NIEHS). Developed nations have seen increased health benefits as well as economic gains from agrarian and industrial revolutions that have boosted their health care provision and access (Brennan and Lo; Kjellen). Developed nations have not yet experienced considerable economic advancements that are seen in their developed counterparts; accordingly, this implies that these countries are still plagued by rather simple preventable diseases that are unheard of in developed nations.
Paradoxically, developed nations have got their fair share of environment-related health issues due to their economically induced health hazards (Brennan and Lo). Thus, developed countries have a different set of environmental health issues from the set that is prevalent in developing nations (Kjellen). However, the manifestation of infections is still apparent, and the bottom line for developed and developing nations alike should be to alleviate those factors that cause these adversaries. Accordingly, developing nations should address poverty first, while developed nations have to approach industry-related concerns.
The issue of environmental health, though a new phenomenon, is within every society and efforts should be made to address the mentioned concerns. The paper has adequately analyzed environmental health issues, both abiotic and biotic, from the home, workplace and broader settings outside the home and the workplace, enlisting the likely sources of hazards for populations.
It has also discussed the most recent menaces in the form of climate change and associated health concerns due to climate change. On top of it, the most likely health-related infirmities have been discussed, and all nations, even as conventions and charters are made, hope to ensure that the issues of environmental health have been addressed at the state level, as this is what ethics and sustenance requires on behalf of populations. Issues of conservations and reservations should take center stage to guarantee people proper health. Education could become a rather vital tool to aid this agenda going forward.