Think of the environment as concentric rings starting with your home and workplace and widening out to your neighborhood, your geographic region, the entire planet. At each level, environmental factors impact human health.
Looking at environmental health problems at a global level can feel overwhelming. But the good news is that you do have some control over your everyday surroundings. And it is your home environment that has the most immediate impact on your health. So although larger environmental factors are vital, we'll focus in this section on your personal environment and its effect on your health.
In your home, the important environmental factors include:
- Air quality: Your home air quality can be severely compromised by common chemicals used for cleaning or lawn care, standard heating/ventilation systems and building materials, and everyday household nuisances like dust and mold. Dander from pets can also impact your home's air quality, as can fumes from cigarette smoke.
- Water source: What's your water source? In most American communities, we're fortunate to enjoy clean, potable water. However, city water can contain lead from older pipes. Same with well water, which can also be tainted by impurities leached from soil. And the solution isn't necessarily bottled water, which can contain contaminants not only from its source, but from its plastic container.
- Food source and quality: Trite but true: you are what you eat. Consuming foods that have been grown with the aid of certain pesticides or hormones, augmented by artificial colors or flavors, or preserved with chemicals can impact your health. The air and noise pollution produced by transporting foods long distances and the soil and water damage caused by pesticides are also important considerations.
- Electromagnetic fields: Do you watch TV, use a computer, cook with a microwave, or chat on a cell phone? Then you're exposed to electromagnetic fields, or EMFs, produced by electrically charged objects, Research about the health effects on EMFs is ongoing, but this topic is still considered an important environmental health consideration.
- Sound pollution: Can't get any respite from jets, jackhammers and other noisemakers? Sound pollution affects everyone, even if it's only the constant drone of a leaf blower or a blaring stereo.
A healthy home environment also contributes to, rather than detracts from, its immediate vicinity. It does not negatively impact the plants, animals, or people "living downstream" from it by emitting toxins, such as cleaning or gardening byproducts, into its surroundings. A healthy home also contributes to sustainability, minimizing waste and utilizing and refreshing local resources.
You face many of the same health challenges on the job as you do at home. For example, if you're employed in an office environment, electromagnetic fields from constant computer exposure might cause concern. Or if your workplace is unavoidably noisy, such as a construction site, your sound pollution risk is increased.
However, the most common workplace environmental concern is air quality. This is particularly true in manufacturing, farming, mining, cleaning/maintenance and other professions that rely heavily on chemical use.