Environmental health is a two-way street. Our environment, in the largest sense, is the complex network of physical, chemical, biological, and ecological components that make up the natural world. How clean and unpolluted the air, water, and soil of this environment are can affect the health of human beings. On the other hand, the way people treat the environment in their professional, industrial, and recreational activities helps determine how clean and safe it will be. In short, the environment affects the health of human beings, and human beings affect the health of the environment. All of the issues that evolve out of the interaction between people and the environment fall under the umbrella of environmental health.
Governments, companies, and individuals have a responsibility to preserve and promote environmental health. Government agencies, like the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), founded in 1970, regulate industry to limit pollution that can damage the environment. The EPA's mission is to protect public health and the quality of the natural environment. Legislation like the Clean Air Act, passed by Congress in 1970, protects air quality by setting standards of purity for the air circulated in homes, schools, and workplaces. Groups outside the government, such as the World Wildlife Foundation, also work to identify and control threats to the environment that will endanger the food, water, and homes of plants and animals.
Everyone must make choices about how and where to live. Whether people are watching television in their living rooms, working at an office, eating at a restaurant, swimming at a beach, bicycling in a park, or sitting in a classroom, they should be aware of the condition of the environment around them. Good environmental health means having a safe, clean environment so that everyone can be healthy and productive within it. This chapter discusses the many different risks that threaten the environment, including radiation, pesticides, and indoor and outdoor air pollution, as well as ways to protect the environment and those who live in it.