Environmental Health and Medicine

By Sowmiya T | Sunday, January 22, 2023

Environmental health is defined as "the branch of public health concerned with all aspects of the natural and built environment affecting human health” (Wikipedia contributors, 2022). Medicine plays a role in environmental health through its research, diagnosis, and treatment of the effects of climate change, pollution, and other issues. Thus, it is important for this field to develop in light of an uncertain future with dangerous conditions for humans to endure. Strong immunity, lung health, and vaccines against vectors are some of the important developments that medicine must advance in order to prevent a dystopian future in 50 to 100 years’ time. This article will focus on what environmental medicine is and what the current research trends in this academic area are.

Environmental medicine refers to the medical science that studies the relationship between human health and the biological, chemical, and physical factors in the environment (Franco-Parades et al., 2013). It studies a wide range of topics including how heatwaves damage our organs, what greenhouse gases affect different bodily functions, and who is more vulnerable to skin cancer caused by excessive UV exposure. This field is special because a significant part of our environment has yet to be studied - there are many forests that are still undiscovered, for example! Professionals in this field also research future events that could affect mankind.

It was not until the 20th century that scientists recognized the potential for environmental factors to impact global health. Events such as:

  • The use of CFCs (chlorofluorocarbons)
  • The Chernobyl nuclear disaster
  • Increasing air pollution

have all highlighted the importance of this field over the years. Even chemical weapons can be included in the discussion of environmental medicine if their toxic substances spread and harm both the environment and us.

Let us examine two of these events:

  1. The use of CFCs: Initially a scientific discovery in 1928 by Thomas Midgley Jr. and his team from General Motors, CFCs were invented with the hope of making commercial refrigerators safer. While they were financially successful, the later half of the 20th century saw emerging concerns about the depletion of the ozone layer as a result. This meant a higher risk of cancer and other harmful effects due to excessive UV exposure. Environmental medicine research successfully led to a global ban on CFCs in 1987, which not only saved lives but also bought us time in our fight against climate change.
  2. Increasing air pollution: Exposure to toxic substances in the air can lead to various health issues. For example, if a pregnant woman ingests lead, it can be passed on to her fetus through the blood vessels. This can endanger the pregnancy or damage the baby’s vital organs and affect its ability to develop normally before or after birth. A child growing up with exposure to pollutants can also be at risk of developing cancer, which can threaten their life. To protect against these types of risks, it is important to study the potential health impacts of environmental factors and develop strategies to mitigate their effects.

Some of the current trends in environmental medicine research include:

  • Pesticides
  • Increasing greenhouse gas levels
  • Extreme heat

Pesticides are of particular concern because they can persist in the environment for an extended period of time. They are used in agriculture to ensure a stable food supply, especially in regions facing food insecurity. As demand for food increases and safer produce becomes more accessible to wealthy individuals, it is necessary to conduct more research to protect the larger middle and lower classes. This is especially important given the risks associated with consuming potentially unsafe produce.

Curious about Biology? Check out‘s tutoring sessions. Want to teach it? Get a certification in Biology today! Interested in environmental science? Consider exploring the AP College Environmental Science course on Khan Academy or teach your own Experimental series at Schoolhouse!

Thank you Sharon V for editing this article!

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