NEHA March 2024 Journal of Environmental Health


Open Access


Artificial Intelligence in Environmental Health: Education and Practice

Michele Morrone, MS, PhD, REHS/RS Ohio University

health professionals will need new skills when it comes to integrating AI into practice. Where are these new skills going to come from? Will employers have to design and implement training? Should college gradu- ates be equipped with these skills when they graduate? Both educators and practitioners bear some responsibility for addressing AI in practice. First, however, we must get up to speed on the potential benefits and chal- lenges of AI in environmental health, which means we must both forecast and develop the new skills that are needed. While AI is not new, its application as a supplemental teaching and learning tool for student use in higher education is. For example, ChatGPT entered the educa- tional scene in the late fall 2022 semester. At this time, I was teaching toxicology, a required class for environmental health majors in academic programs accredited by the National Environmental Health Sci- ence and Protection Accreditation Council (EHAC). Historically, for the midterm and final exams, students write short answer responses to prompts such as: “Explain how risk assessment is used in regulatory toxicology” and “Explain why the liver is important to the toxicity of many chemi- cals.” To promote class discussion, students were given answers to prompts from Chat- GPT to compare with answers from students in a previous class. They used the assign- ment rubric to evaluate the assignment and the ChatGPT responses scored consistently higher than those written by previous stu- dents. One student said she knew which responses were AI-generated because there were no grammatical errors.

Editor’s Note: In an eort to promote the growth of the environmental health profession and the academic programs that fuel that growth, the National Environmental Health Association has teamed up with the Association of Environmental Health Academic Programs (AEHAP) to publish two columns a year in the Journal . AEHAP’s mission is to support environmental health education to ensure the optimal health of people and the environment. The organization works hand in hand with the National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council (EHAC) to accredit, market, and promote EHAC-accredited environmental health degree programs. This column provides AEHAP with the opportunity to share current trends within undergraduate and graduate environmental health programs, as well as eorts to further the environmental health field and available resources. The conclusions of this column are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily represent the views or oƒcial position of NEHA. Dr. Morrone is a professor in the Department of Social and Public Health at Ohio University. She is the current president of AEHAP.

W hen asked, “What impact will artificial intelligence (AI) have on the environmental health pro- fession?,” ChatGPT, the most common AI in education, responded: Artificial intelligence (AI) is likely to have a significant impact on the environmental health profession in several ways. Then it went on to list how AI could influ- ence: 1) data analysis and monitoring, 2) predictive modeling, 3) disease surveillance, 4) environmental impact assessment, 5) deci- sion support systems, 6) resource allocation, 7) public engagement and communication, and 8) data integration. It concluded with the following statement:

While the integration of AI in environ- mental health presents numerous oppor- tunities, challenges such as data privacy, ethical considerations, and the need for interdisciplinary collaboration must be addressed. Additionally, professionals in the environmental health field may need to acquire new skills to eectively leverage AI technologies for the benefit of public and environmental health. This somewhat generic response applies to many professions and reminds us of the lim- its of AI. These limits include decisions that are best left to humans such as those about ethics, privacy, and collaboration. Neverthe- less, there is no doubt that environmental


Volume 86 • Number 7

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