Environmental Health


What is environmental health?

Environmental Health is a science that focuses on understanding how the environment affects human health in order to prevent illness and promote well-being.

How does the environment affect our health?

There are many ways in which the environment affects our health. To understand the breadth and depth of this relationship, see the information below—adapted, with permission, from the Health and Environmental Funders Network.


Everyone benefits when a community's air is clean, the water is safe to drink, and indoor and outdoor conditions are healthy. Too often, hazards where people live, learn, work, and play—like lead in drinking water, air pollution outside or lead paint indoors—are causing preventable health problems. Unhealthy environments are particularly dangerous for children and often worst in neighborhoods also burdened by problems like poverty. Opportunities to foster healthy communities include:

  • Health: Improving conditions for healthy development and better health outcomes for all.
  • Environment: Strengthening public awareness of our health stake in environmental protection.   
  • Social justice: Enabling affected groups to organize and have a greater voice in decisions.
  • Community development: Improving local livability and recreational opportunities, reducing pollution-related costs, and enhancing the general appeal for families and business.

Exposures (Chemicals)

People are exposed to toxic chemicals every day, including through water, air, food, and consumer products. While over 85,000 chemicals are registered for use in the U.S., most chemicals are not designed or tested for safety, and regulation is weak. Extensive research links exposures to serious health effects, from asthma and cancers to neurological and reproductive problems. For individuals, policy makers, researchers, and diverse institutions, opportunities exist to significantly reduce exposures and improve health.

Climate and Energy

Energy is a vital part of modern life.  But the types of energy we use - and how it is produced, used, and disposed of - have major consequences for public health and for communities. Fossil fuels (oil, gas, and coal), in particular, directly impact health, local air pollution, and drinking water, and they are rapidly worsening global climate change. Climate change is a serious threat to human health, as global warming emissions trap heat in the atmosphere and trigger a cascade of events like heat waves, droughts, and storms. Where there are big challenges, there also are big opportunities for positive action. Moves to address climate and energy challenges can offer win-wins for people, places, communities, and the economy.