NEHA March 2024 Journal of Environmental Health


Open Access


The Scope of Work for Environmental Public Health Should Evolve

Tom Butts, MSc, REHS

M aintaining quality regulatory pro- grams while working to build proactive, upstream environmen- tal public health capacity is something that should be considered as foundational regu- latory programs also evolve. Considering the value of various environmental health programs as they relate to the activities that have the potential to change community health outcomes involves a variety of fac- tors in our organizations as we each play a unique role in promoting and protecting en- vironmental public health. As we have learned from the past 5 years, keeping a wary eye on the potential for emerging or reemerging diseases is a must. This vigilance involves maintaining focus on preparing for and responding to infectious diseases and outbreaks, which will continue to be crucial in the wake of global pandemics. As an example, let us contemplate what role environmental health can play—as health departments, nonprofit organizations, and other agencies—to work with com- munity members to address healthy eating and active living activities. This work often focuses on changing policies, the built envi- ronment, and access to address chronic dis- eases through lifestyle changes, focusing on long-term health outcomes. Although we have been working to address impacts on community health from hazardous waste sites for years, a renewed focus (and funding) is supporting a refo- cused interest in addressing environmental justice. These activities work to ensure equi- table distribution of environmental benefits and burdens that impact the health of mar- ginalized communities.

(e.g., regulating water quality). Responses to issues such as emerging diseases can be more reactive and require the ability to adjust more rapidly. All our programs need to be nimble to respond to these issues. • Equity and Accessibility: Addressing health disparities might look di€erent in di€erent program contexts, but equity and accessibility need to be embraced in each. Both traditional and contemporary envi- ronmental health programs are vital for com- munities to consider, but they operate on di€erent levels, address di€erent aspects of health, and are often funded very di€erently. Traditional programs are crucial for immedi- ate, localized health needs, while contempo- rary focuses address broader, long-term global health challenges. A balanced approach that recognizes the importance of both is essential for comprehensive community health As organizations consider evolving their scope of work, leaders must seek ways to maintain quality regulatory environmen- tal public health programs while working to build proactive programming to address health disparities and climate change. Main- taining or improving the quality of traditional regulatory environmental public health pro- grams while proactively addressing health disparities and climate change is not only possible but also increasingly necessary. This integrated approach can create a more resilient and equitable public health frame- work through: • Understanding the Intersection of Tradi- tional and Proactive Programs: Traditional environmental health programs such as food safety, water quality, and waste management are foundational to public

Maintaining or improving the

quality of traditional environmental public health programs while proactively addressing health disparities and climate change is not only possible but also increasingly necessary.

When some of these issues must be addressed, it often involves taking a di€erent approach than regulatory compliance activi- ties. How should this issue be looked at as we consider the comparative value to the much broader range of community health outcomes? • Direct Versus Indirect Impact: Traditional programs often have a more direct and immediate impact on health (e.g., prevent- ing foodborne illness), while contempo- rary issues may have broader, long-term impacts (e.g., mitigating climate change e€ects) that are harder to measure. • Scale and Scope: Contemporary issues such as climate change and emerging diseases often operate on a global scale, which impacts a wide range of environ- mental health factors. Traditional pro- grams, however, are more localized but critical in daily life. • Preventative Versus Reactive Approaches: Traditional programs are often preventative


Volume 86 • Number 7

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