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Report on the Environment

Human Exposure and Health Icon



The health of the human population can be influenced by many factors, one of which is exposure to environmental contamination. Protecting human health from the effects of environmental contaminants is therefore an integral part of EPA’s mission. Protecting, sustaining, or restoring the health of people and communities is central to EPA’s various research and regulatory programs. In fulfilling its mission, EPA examines the human health impacts of contamination (physical, chemical, biological, or radiological) in air, in water, and on the land. Thorough study of adverse health effects associated with environmental contaminants enables the Agency to evaluate harmful levels of exposure and issue guidelines for the safe production, handling, and management of hazardous substances.

As described throughout the ROE, people can be exposed to environmental contaminants in a variety of ways, and many contaminants are known to be or suspected of causing human disease. Identifying (1) the extent to which human exposures may be occurring or may have occurred and (2) measures of health outcomes possibly influenced by environmental exposures is important in determining where further study or public health interventions may be necessary. For example, the presence or patterns of elevated levels of environmental contaminants, as measured in human tissue through biomonitoring, are of interest. Similarly, a high or increasing rate of a particular cancer for which a hazardous substance in the environment may be a contributing factor is of interest. In addition, tracking exposures and health condition across segments of the population such as gender, race or ethnicity, or geographic location helps to identify differences across subgroups and guide public health decisions and strategies.

Key highlights:

The indicators used here are based on data sets representative of the national population; they are not based on data from targeted populations or tied to specific exposures or releases. Therefore, these data sets cannot and should not be used to draw conclusions about linkages or causal relationships between a particular health outcome and contaminant; nor is it possible to directly link the health outcome or biomonitoring indicators to any of the indicators of emissions or ambient pollutants in air, land, or water presented in other chapters of the ROE report. Though the ROE does not assess quantitative relationships between the measures of environmental contaminants and diseases, it does present some qualitative discussion of the research that has examined some of these relationships to help explain why EPA has included particular indicators.

More information about the Human Exposure and Health Chapter can be founf in the ROE 2008 Report (PDF) (71 pp, 4.02MB) .

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