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Environmental Health

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Abstract: Are you healthy? Is your environment healthy for you? What does it mean to be healthy? Does it mean you're not achy, or that you are not visibly sick? The World Health Organization defines health broadly as a state of physical, mental, and social well-being. This means that being healthy is more than just living a long life, but living a life that is productive and free from ailments that reduce your potential to live enjoyably.

In this chapter, we will focus on the aspects of our environment that affect our own health. These environmental influences can be classified into three categories: infectious agents, chemical agents, and physical agents. Infectious agents are living microorganisms that cause disease. Physical agents include things such as radiation and microwaves and other electromagnetic fields. Some of the effects of radiation on health are discussed elsewhere in this book. Chemical Agents is a broad category of metals and chemicals that contaminate our water, air, food supplies, and residential environments.

So how important are each of these in our lives? We are impacted by each of them every day, and we have been throughout the history of our evolution! Since before birth, our bodies have been assaulted by environmental invaders. We are bombarded by damaging rays from the sun, been selected as the perfect home by bacteria, and your body, a finely tuned biochemical machine, has been disturbed by foreign chemicals. Many of these environmental insults over time lead to what we know as aging, a natural process that we cannot avoid. Even if we could live in a bubble, cut off from as much of the environment as possible, the very oxygen we breathe causes damage to cells through a process called oxidation. Besides, what quality of life would living in such an environment provide? In the field of environmental health, we strive to reduce the influences of our environment on our quality and length of life to the extent possible, realizing that we cannot eliminate environmental impacts altogether. In the modem world, when we are producing new technologies and chemicals at a rapid pace, we are putting new things into our environment all the time. Some of these things exist in small amounts and may have subtle effects on our health. It is this subtlety that makes some of the problems in environmental health challenging and their scientific outcome often controversial. Here, we will begin to explore some of the concepts used in the study of environmental health and will examine in detail two case studies of environmental health issues that have arisen in Nevada. First, we will more clearly define the different types of environmental agents that affect our health.

The author is a scientist with the Office of Research and Development of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This paper has been reviewed in accordance with the Agency's peer and administrative review policies and has been approved for publication. The work represents the views of the author and does not necessarily reflect the views of the agency.

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Citation:Rigas, M. L. Environmental Health. Nevada Environmental Issues, Chapter6. Kendall-Hunt Publishers, Dubuque, IA, (2002).
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Contact: Liz Hope - (919) 541-2785 or hope.elizabeth@epa.gov
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Division: Human Exposure & Atmospheric Sciences Division
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Branch: Human Expsoure Research Branch
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Product Type: Book Chaptr
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Published: 07/01/2002
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Related Entries:
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Bullet Item Models and Modeling Methods for Assessing Human Exposure and Dose to Toxic Chemicals and Pollutants
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