Environmental Health: Definition and Meaning

The environment and health are two major variables that are combined in environmental health. Everything around us is included in the term "environment," and our state of health is a result of the impact of environmental variables on us. Our physical, mental, and social health are impacted by everything in our environment, including the air, water, soil, and other elements.

What is the meaning of Environmental Health?

The phrase "environmental health" refers to those facets of human health, such as quality of life, that are influenced by environmental elements that are physical, biological, social, and psychological. The majority of illnesses, accidents, and fatalities in developing nations are caused by external factors. They span a wide range, from physical ones like poor sanitization, water, drainage, housing, and home energy to behavioral ones like poor personal cleanliness, inappropriate sexual conduct, bad driving habits, drunkenness, and cigarette use.

Environmental health concerns may be divided into two main groups −

  • The standard of risks associated with poverty and underdevelopment, including a lack of access to clean water, poor sanitation and waste management, indoor air pollution, and vector-borne illnesses (for example: malaria),

  • Environmentally irresponsible development contributes to contemporary dangers including urban air pollution and garbage exposure from the agricultural and industrial sectors. 

Significance of Environment Health

The importance of environmental health is −

Human health doesn't exist alone; rather, there are very real and demonstrable connections between the two that can be observed and studied through science.
Environmental factors may have short-term/acute or long-term/chronic effects on health.
Colds, flu, food poisoning, oil spills, and heart attacks are examples of acute illnesses. These start suddenly and are typically short-lived.
Over time, chronic illnesses either deteriorate or develop. It is challenging to identify the true cause of chronic illnesses including asthma, cancer, and diabetes since there may be several causes.
For instance, a non-smoker who lives close to a factory or a traffic intersection may be persistently exposed to air pollution on a daily basis and may as a result suffer from chronic respiratory ailments. In actuality, there are several environmental factors that contribute to illness. Other factors, such as indoor pollution, housing and living circumstances, lifestyle, food, heredity, and many more, may also play a role.

Effects of Biological, Chemical, and Physical Agents

The effects of biological, chemical, and physical agents has four elements of the environment on human health are as follows −

Effects of Biological, Chemical, and Physical Agents in Water on Human Health

One of the leading causes of illness and disease in India and many other developing nations is water-borne disease. Water that is safe and healthy tastes good and is devoid of chemicals and germs. Water, however, gets contaminated and unfit for consumption as a result of human activities including industrial discharge, urbanization, agricultural sources of contamination, and municipal sewage.

Classification of Water-Borne Diseases According to Causative Agents

It includes −

Physical and Chemical Pollutants

Chemical pollutants are produced by human activities including farming, manufacturing, and urban development. These substances may be either organic (such as detergents, tar, plastic, and pesticides) or inorganic (such as salts, nitrites, phosphates, chlorides, and fluorides). These contaminants included chlorine, bleaching chemicals, detergent solvents, cyanides, heavy metals, minerals, organic acids, nitrogenous compounds, fertilizers, soaps, oil spills, colors, pigments, sulfides, ammonia, and a wide range of poisonous and biocidal organic compounds. Chemical pollutants may have an impact on human health both directly and indirectly by building up in aquatic life, such as fish, that is consumed by humans.

Biological Agents

There are two main categories of biological agents −

  • Pathogenic species, including bacteria, viruses, nematodes, worms, and protozoans, and

  • Nuisance creatures, including Slime, mollusc, algae, Asellus, nematodesetc.

Biological agents or infectious agents, such as viruses, protozoa, helminths, or leptospirosis, are cause of biological water-borne illnesses.


Human health issues are caused by variations in temperature, turbidity, color, and suspended and floating materials in bodies of water. These alterations may result from the blending of sewage and industrial effluents with rivers and groundwater, as well as from other human activities adding silt, sand, metal fragments, rubber, wood chips, paper, foam, scum, carcasses, and sewage.

Effects of Water Pollution on Human Health

Human health is impacted by water contamination in the following ways −

  • The presence of pesticides in water has a negative impact on human health, and studies have found a substantial correlation between pesticide exposure and cancer, neurological diseases, birth abnormalities, fetal mortality, and abnormal fetal development.

  • Thermal pollution causes an excessive amount of heat to be produced, which is bad for aquatic life and human health.

  • Both marine and human life are seriously harmed by marine pollution brought on by oil spills and improper trash disposal, particularly plastic. In the bellies of deceased whales, asbestos, and other creatures, tons of plastic trash has been discovered.

  • Remaining waste from tests and radioactive waste produced for nuclear energy or defense objectives are thrown into the oceans. The health of the environment is impacted by the unusually long life of this garbage.

Effects of Biological, Chemical, and Physical Agents in the Air on Human Health

Air makes up our immediate environment, and all living depends on it for oxygen. In addition, air circulates hearing and scent, aids in bodily cooling, and may transfer pathogens. Sickness and fatalities have been caused by the air pollution brought on by dust, smoke, poisonous gases, and chemical vapors.

A mechanical combination of gases makes up air. According to volume, the typical composition of outside air is about as follows−

Other gases that are present in trace amounts make up the rest, such as argon, neon, krypton, xenon, and helium. Air also includes water vapor, traces of ammonia, dust, bacteria, spores, and vegetable waste, as well as other suspended stuff.

Impure air is caused by −

Indoor Air Pollution

Due to the fact that we spend a lot of time inside, the indoor environment is also quite important. Physical aspects of the home are crucial in defining the influence of indoor air pollution and its effects, in addition to chemical air pollutants. Ventilation, the quantity of windows, exhaust fans, temperature, and humidity are a few of these. The burning of solid fuels indoors, tobacco use, outside air pollutants, emissions from furniture and building materials, and negligent ventilation and air conditioning system maintenance are the main causes of indoor air pollution globally. Fine particles, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxide, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), sulfur dioxide, lead, asbestos, radon, polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAH), and biological contaminants are the main indoor pollutants. 

Effects of Biological, Chemical and Physical Agents in Food Resources on Human Health

Food and water that humans eat might be contaminated by unclean settings, leading to widespread sickness. To decrease foodborne illnesses, environmental cleanliness and upholding personal hygiene are therefore essential. Food-borne illnesses, sometimes known as "food poisoning," include food-borne intoxications and food-borne infections that humans eat. Antibiotics and hormone injections for greater yield, along with chemicals used to ripen crops, are all ingested and enter our food chain.

Types of Food-Borne Diseases

There are two types of food-borne diseases −

Effects of Biological, Chemical, and Physical Agents in Land/Soil Resources on Human Health

The immovable character of land makes pollution there considerably more destructive. It replenishes more slowly and could remain in one place for many years. Urban regions struggle with a lot of solid waste, which is made worse by the population growth. The problems caused by soil contamination are exacerbated by residential, agricultural, and industrial sources as well as e-waste, medical waste, and radioactive waste. Numerous wastes have an effect on one's physical, mental, and social well-being, including biological agents that contaminate water and food and cause gastrointestinal infections like cholera, typhoid, dysentery, infective hepatitis, polio, ascariasis, and hookworm disease; mosquitoes that spread diseases like malaria and filaria; common house flies that spread infections; and dust that may contain germs like tubercle bacilli.

Types of Land Pollution

Depending on the source of the pollutants, there are many forms of land pollution. In general, these are −

Indian Legal Framework, Policies, and Practices Associated with Environmental Health

Governments and organizations must develop policies when they see environmental problems affecting the wellbeing of their region. In India, the ownership of the healthcare industry is divided into three categories: public, government, private, and individual-owned. Other public-sector entities that possess healthcare facilities include charitable organizations, religious groups like churches and NGOs, and atomic, railroad, and military companies.

The central government takes the lead in providing a framework for diseases such as smallpox, malaria, tuberculosis, HIV/AIDS, leprosy, and others. At the state level, these initiatives are uniformly implemented. Additionally, the states carry out all federally supported initiatives including the Swachh Bharat Mission, family planning, and universal vaccination. The Union Ministry of Health and Family Welfare is in charge of putting numerous initiatives into action, conducting research, and allocating funding.

National Health Policies Concerning Environmental Health in India

The policies are −


Human health cannot be evaluated from a segmented viewpoint in which health is enhanced only by medical intervention. Instead, a number of interrelated elements, including the environment, interact to produce health. Human health and well-being can be readily enhanced if the environment and living condition are improved. Therefore, rather of concentrating on treating the diseases, government policies, programs, and initiatives should focus on enhancing and cleaning the environment to encourage prevention of diseases.

Frequently Asked Questions

Q1. What are the 3 P's of environmental health?

Ans. The "three P's" of environmental health are, pollution, population, and poverty. These three “P” are the principal determinants of health worldwide. The three Ps are interlinked because population growth is associated with poverty, and both poverty and population growth are associated.

Q2. What causes environmental health problems?

Ans. The factors include air pollution, water and sanitation issues, increasing heat waves and severe weather events, harmful exposure to chemicals, and more. The estimation of the burden of disease from environmental factors relies on information about exposure and exposure–response relationships.

Q3. What factors affect our environment?

Ans. There are various factors (or human activities) that affect environment badly; some of them are industrialization (heavy industries pollute environment like anything and also major cause of deforestation and land degradation); urbanization (the expanding urban settlement putting much burden on the environment in the form of development of buildings, roads, dams, bridge, etc.); deforestation (excessive cutting of trees); hunting and poaching of animals, etc.

Q4.  What are the major examples of environmental elements?

Ans. Major elements of environment are air, water, climate, soil, natural vegetation, and landforms.

Updated on: 14-Mar-2023


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