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Home arrow Health arrow Best practices for environmental health : environmental pollution, protection, quality and sustainability


The need for the brief explanation that follows concerning the history of environmental protection, sustainability, environmental health, and occupational health is quite evident when we explore the problems which have been created by the dividing of the environmental field into health and protection. These problems include the creation of additional bureaucracies in the same localities, where professionals in health as well as professionals in environmental protection may not be working together to resolve mutual problems and thereby causing duplication of work and waste of scarce resources. However, the division has considerable merits because it has provided considerably more resources for the professionals to try to resolve problems of the environment and people.


Throughout recorded history when severe problems of environmental circumstances and/or disease and injury occurred, stakeholders demanded changes. Governing bodies typically selected an individual or group who represented both environmental health and environmental protection to conduct studies which led to new laws based on the current best knowledge available, and this led to the creation of Best Practices to resolve the problems. Some examples of this are described below.

The Greeks understood that human waste and solid waste could spread disease and therefore invented toilets, sewers, and dumps outside of the city. The first dumps were developed by the Greeks outside of Athens around 500 B.C. The Greek physician Hippocrates in his book, On Airs, Waters, and Places, explored the potential for disease from environmental sources.

Plato and Aristotle said that no city could exist without health officers. These health officers were probably some of the first combination of environmental health and environmental protection people in the world.

The Age of Enlightenment (1750-1830, though scholars differ widely on this time frame) refers to the period of time in Europe and America when people explored the idea of what was the proper relationship of the citizen to the chief of state. The idea that society was a contract between the individual and some larger entity continued to grow, and the king or chief executive should be responsible for the health and welfare of the governed individuals as part of this contract.

The Sanitary Movement (early and mid-1800s) was brought about by a convergence of societal, environmental, and disease-related factors causing substantial loss of life and injury to people because of extreme overcrowding, highly unsanitary conditions, overwork, lack of food, and dangerous occupational and environmental conditions. A group of social reformers and health people worked together to bring this major issue to the attention of the public and to arouse them to demand the passage of appropriate laws and provide the necessary budget and people to make the laws meaningful. Edwin Chadwick (father of the sanitary movement) instigated public sanitary reform. He wrote the “Report on the Sanitary Condition of the Labouring Population of Great Britain” in 1842.

The Public Health Act of 1848 in England was a consequence of these very serious conditions and resulted in ?5 million being set aside for sanitary research. It was the beginning of the commitment to a proactive rather than reactive public health philosophy. The state guaranteed certain standards of health and environmental quality and provided the necessary resources to local units of government to make the changes in the environment necessary to meet the standards.

The Sanitary Report of 1850, entitled “Report of a General Plan for the Promotion of Public and Personal Health, Devised, Prepared and Recommended by the Commissioners Appointed under a Resolve of the Legislature of Massachusetts, Relating to a Sanitary Survey of the State,” was prepared by Lemuel Shattuck. His report indicated that much of the ill health and debility of people in large American cities could be traced to unsanitary conditions and recommended that local studies be carried out and programs put into effect to change these conditions. He established a prototype for other states to follow in forming a board of health.

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