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Careers in Environmental Public Health
By Sam MacArthur

If you want to go into public health, you’ve probably come across a lot of related terms, and those terms can sometimes cause confusion.

Two widely used terms are “environmental health” and “environmental public health.” But what is environmental health? And what is environmental public health? Do they mean the same thing, or do they have two different definitions? 

What is Environmental Health? What is Environmental Public Health? 

These two terms boil down to the same concept, so you could define environmental health in the same way you’d define environmental public health. As you research environmental health, you’ll find these two terms used interchangeably. 

In public health, categories are defined by their focus, so one can define environmental health by the fact that it focuses on the environment. Environmental health acknowledges that the environment has a big impact on community health. For example, soil conditions impact the quality of and nutritional value of food. Access to clean water can prevent disease. 

Meanwhile, living in highly polluted environments can cause health problems or make them worse. Polluted air is linked to allergies and asthma, for instance. Likewise, the prevalence of certain animal populations can also increase disease. For example, mosquitos brought about the Zika epidemic severa years ago. 

When you define environmental health, know that it’s concerned with four primary things. The first is providing environmental testing. Environmental health professionals often test air quality, water quality, and more to determine how much help and intervention a specific community may need. 

The second concern is improving negative environmental conditions so that the impacted communities have a chance to live healthier lives. State, local, and federal governments often employ environmental public health officials, as you’ll see below. These environmental health professionals work with their governments to create sustainable environmental policies. 

The third concern is providing resources to help communities improve those conditions, and the fourth is providing education about environmental health topics so that people can be empowered to take their environment-related health into their own hands. 

What is the Difference between Public Health and Environmental Health? 

Once you’ve asked “What is environmental health?” and figured out how to define environmental health yourself, you’ll probably run into other questions that can cause a bit of confusion. For example, what is the difference between public health and environmental health? 

Basically, “public health” is a broad umbrella term. Public health is concerned with the health of populations in general, whether those populations are small neighborhoods or entire countries. Public health is mostly concerned with preventing health problems in these populations rather than treating them, although access to treatment does play a part in public health. Public health professionals accomplish this goal by providing education and resources wherever necessary. They also work to update government policies that relate to health. 

As an umbrella term, public health covers many categories, including: 

  • Public policy 
  • Maternal and child health 
  • Global health 
  • Biostatistics 
  • Etc. 

What is environmental health in light of the broader public health context? It’s just one of those many categories that public health covers. You might think of it this way: All environmental public health jobs are also public health jobs in general, but not all general public health jobs are environmental public health jobs. Public health environmental jobs all support public health in general by promoting healthy environments. 

Why Is Environmental Public Health Important? 

Environmental public health is extremely important to the overall health of the global population. 

As HealthyPeople.gov explains, humans consistently interact with their environments, and that interaction can impact human health in numerous ways. Not only can a person’s environment help determine how many years a person lives, the environment can also impact the quality of life that a person has during those years. Those who live in healthier environments can experience much better health than those who live in unhealthy environments. They experience less risk of accidents, disability, and disease. 

Environmental health is also important because it has such a far-reaching influence, and that influence has a lot of potential to improve people’s lives. HealthyPeople.gov lists the six themes of 2020’s Environmental Health Objective: 

  1. Outdoor air quality 
  2. Surface and ground water quality 
  3. Toxic substances and hazardous wastes 
  4. Homes and communities 
  5. Infrastructure and surveillance 
  6. Global environmental health 

When people think of environmental health, many think about nature and the impact that people have on nature. The topic of climate change, for example, may often come up in conversations about environmental public health. As you can see from the list above, however, all parts of a person’s environment can impact that person’s health, including indoor health and workplace health. Because environmental health professionals work on improving all of these areas, the environmental health field can improve lives from several environmental angles. 

Without the right environmental health initiatives, environmental hazards can alter or shorten a person’s lifespan. The aforementioned HealthyPeople.gov resource points out that 23% of all deaths around the world 26% of deaths in children under age five are caused by preventable environmental issues. 

Environmental public health is lifesaving work, and it’s work that needs more people to fill crucial roles. 

What are Some Possible Careers in Environmental Public Health? 

What is environmental health for career seekers? If you’re looking into a public health career for yourself, then you have a lot of possibilities, all of which can help people live in healthier ways. No matter which career you choose, you may save lives through your job. Your job can create a big impact. Public health environmental jobs either create healthier environments or educate others on how to do so. Some possible public health environmental jobs include: 

  • Air pollution or water pollution specialist 
  • General evironmental health professional 
  • Enivornmental sanitation engineer 
  • Environmental health educator 
  • Groundwater protection specialist 
  • Environmental Toxicologist 

Many of these jobs involve researching and testing. Environmental health professionals work in a variety of places, including: 

  • State governments 
  • Local governments 
  • The federal government 
  • Science and tech consulting services 
  • Engineering service 

Those who work for governments tend to take on testing and policy-making roles, while those who work in the private sector can help companies create a more positive environmental impact. 

What is the Environmental Health Tracking Network, and How Might It Impact My Career? 

The Environmental Health Tracking Network is a CDC initiative that public health data, both for public health professionals and for those who don’t work in public health. You can use this portal to see environmental health data at all levels from the federal level to the local level. 

Generally, this portal is helpful because it shows people how the environment is impacted their health, and it gives them some insight on what they can do to improve their health in light of this information. For professionals and future professionals, the Network can provide important data for research purposes. Professionals can develop the most helpful initiatives when they have accurate and updated data. 

What is the Job Outlook for Environmental Public Health Careers? 

Environmental public health careers are growing and expected to keep growing in the future. Unfortunately, much of that growth has to do with the need for people who can help mitigate the damage that humanity has put on various environments. Fortunately, however, much of that growth also has to do with humanity’s renewed focus on creating healthier environments.

According to George Washingtom University, the environmental science field is expected to grow by 8% between 2018 and 2028. Those who graduate from environmental public health programs should be able to step into their careers fairly quickly. 

What is the Average Salary for Environmental Public Health Professionals? 

Environmental public health workers make a wide range of salaries, depending on the particular job. The average salary for environmental public health specialists was $71,130 by May of 2018, according to the aforementioned George Washington University source. The same source also provides more specific salary information for environmental scientists in particular: 

  • State government environmental health salary: $64,600
  • Local government environmental health salary: $67,500
  • Environmental health salary for science and tech service workers: $70,000 
  • Federal government environmental health salary: $103,440

As you can see, environmental scientists in the federal government make the most money by a wide margin. Still, environmental public health careers in general have the potential to provide a financially comfortable life. 

What Kind of Education do I Need to Start My Environmental Public Health Career? 

Most careers in environmental public health require at least a bachelor’s degree, though that degree doesn’t necessary have to be in Environmental Public Health. If you have a degree in a related science, you can likely still find a good environmental public health career. 

Some environmental public health careers require a master’s degree or higher. Because of its deeply technical and scientific nature, a getting a master’s degree in environmental public health is a good idea for those who want to advance in the field. Some people chooe to pursue a bachelor’s degree first, get some work experience, and then earn a master’s degree later so that they’ll have more upward mobility oppotunities within environmental public health careers. 

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