Environmental Public Health

Environmental Public Health: The Practitioner’s Guide,” written by APHA members Paul Knechtges, PhD, REHS, Gregory Kearney, DrPH, MPH, REHS, and Beth Resnick, DrPH, MPH, covers the spectrum of topics that fall under environmental health, serving as a guide to new environmental health practitioners and seasoned public health professionals alike. Public Health Newswire spoke to author Gregory Kearney about the importance of environmental public health and ways outside sectors and industries can use the book as an “all-in-one handbook” on environmental health.

1. Is there anything that you found most exciting when writing the book?

I would say the amount of interest and the influential collaboration from all of the different authors. We have 25 chapters in the book from area experts like [APHA member] Howard Frumkin, MD, DrPH, MPH, who wrote a chapter on climate change. We have Sacoby Wilson, PhD, MS, on environmental justice. We have so many great people in the book that have contributed so much to it. I think that’s the part that gets me really excited about it. We have expertise from different areas, and we’re able to put it into one book that is practice-based.

2. Who is the target audience of the book, and why is this audience so important?

The target audience is the person that’s new to environmental health but I wouldn’t want to say that it’s not for other environmental health professionals. There is so much material and information that people in the field would especially appreciate. People that have an interest of what environment health practice is or who want to get a deeper insight about environmental public health would be interested, too. What I’ve been calling it is kind of an all-in-one handbook for people that are just getting started in the field.

When we first started the book, we talked to APHA and they told us that they really wanted to have a book that was developed for someone who was in the local health department who had just assumed the role of environmental health director or environmental health administrator. Even though someone may have a public health background they may not be that familiar with environmental health. People may be asked to step in and be an environmental health director or analyst so this would be a really good book for them to use as a reference.

3. What chapters in the book are particularly important for people who are just starting their career in environmental health, and why?

That’s tough because I think all of the chapters offer something for people who are just starting. We have Doug Farquhar who wrote “Legal framework for environmental health”. Mr. Farquhar is an attorney and he has years of experience working in environmental health from a policy, legislative and legal standpoint. Someone new first understanding the legal framework is very important.

Some of the immersed topics, like climate change, are also important for someone who is interested in health. Environmental health is so dynamic, particularly public health practice. Working at the local health department your duties vary from day to day. One day you may be asked to do a foodborne illness investigation, and the next day you may be talking to the media about a bioterrorism act, and we have a chapter on risk communication. There are all types of references and information in the book that we hope that everyone can use and go to.

If we’re not communicating, collaborating and talking to other people… It’s hard for us as environmental health professionals to have effective interventions.

4. The book discusses skills that go beyond the scope of environmental health. Outside of environmental health, what skills are important for environmental health workers to have and why?

Communication. I think communication is probably one of the strongest skills that a person can have in environmental health. If we’re not communicating, collaborating and talking to other people we have a false sense of what’s going on. It’s hard for us as environmental health professionals to have effective interventions, and to really conduct our jobs and our duties, without having efficient communication skills.

5. How is a cross-sectoral approach beneficial to addressing environmental health issues and how can other fields use this book as a resource?

Public health interventions and public health promotion require collaboration and partnerships across different sectors. This book provides insight into some of the services of environmental health. It’s important to be able to recognize what sectors and what industries and agencies are the players and what strategies can be made or put together to effectively address environmental health issues.

Environmental health is not separate from public health, it is public health.

6. Specifically, why is important for industry leaders to understand environmental health and how can industry leaders use the book as a resource?

To paraphrase what we said in our article with The Nation’s Health, environmental health is seen as the invisible profession, and no one really notices it until something goes wrong. This book offers people outside of the profession an opportunity to gain an appreciation for how much of an impact the environment has in people’s lives. It’s important for us to be able to convey that to industries and to leaders so that they know what we’re doing.

Environmental issues are often seen separate from public health as a whole. The term environmental public health came out a few years ago and we try to use that as often as we can to remind people that environmental health is not separate from public health, it is public health. It’s important for industry leaders to recognize that and to understand environmental health from that perspective.

Globally, about 23 percent of all deaths, and 26 percent of deaths among children under five, are due to environmental factors. That includes things like exposure to hazardous substances that are in the air, water and food. Occupational hazards and really poor environmental quality impacts those that have the poorest health outcomes. It’s important to recognize the impact that environmental health has on human health and that we work together to strategize and figure out how best to lessen those impacts.

“Environmental Public Health: The Practitioner’s Guide” is available from APHA Press. APHA members can purchase the book at a 30 percent discount.