Environmental medicine is a multidisciplinary field involving medicine, environmental science, chemistry and others. It may be viewed as the medical branch of the broader field of environmental health. The scope of this field involves studying the interactions between environment and human health, and the role of the environment in causing or mediating disease. As a specialist field of study it is looked upon with mixed feelings by physicians and politicians alike, for the basic assumption is that health is more widely and dramatically affected by environmental toxins than previously recognised.
Environmental factors in the causation of environmental diseases can be classified into:
- Any combination of the above
Current focuses of environmental medicine
While environmental medicine is a broad field, some of the currently prominent issues include:
- The effects of ozone depletion and the resulting increase in UV radiation on humans with regards to skin cancer.
- The effects of nuclear accidents or the effects of a terrorist dirty bomb attack and the resulting effects of radioactive material and radiation on humans.
- The effects of chemicals on humans, such as dioxin, especially with regards to developmental effects and cancer.
- Radon gas exposure in individuals' homes.
- Air and water pollution on the health of individuals.
- Mercury poisoning and exposure to humans though including fish and sea life in their diet.
- Lead poisoning from leaded gasoline, paint, and plumbing.
- Water-borne diseases
- Food poisoning
- Indoor air quality
According to recent estimates about 5 to 10% of disease adjusted life years (DALY) lost are due to environmental causes. By far the most important factor is fine particulate matter pollution in urban air.
Beyond the scope of environmental medicine
The fields of microbiology, which studies viruses, bacteria and fungi are not within the scope of environmental medicine, if the spread of infection is directly from human to human. However, infections that are water-borne (e.g. cholera and gastroenteritis caused by norovirus or campylobacteria), or food-borne, are typical concerns of environmental medicine. Its role is preventive as far as possible. Much of epidemiology, which studies patterns of disease and injury, is not within the scope of environmental medicine, but e.g. air pollution epidemiology is a highly active branch of environmental health and environmental medicine. In addition, any disease with a large genetic component usually falls outside the scope of environmental medicine, although in diseases like asthma or allergies both environmental and genetic approaches are needed.
- Clinical ecology
- American Academy of Environmental Medicine
- Environmental health
- American Board of Environmental Medicine (Buffalo, NY)
- EEA. National and regional story (Netherlands) - Environmental burden of disease in Europe: the EBoDE project. http://www.eea.europa.eu/soer/countries/nl/national-and-regional-story-netherlands-1
- Ladou, Joseph (2006). Current Occupational & Environmental Medicine (4th ed.). McGraw-Hill Professional. ISBN 0-07-144313-4.
- Tuomisto, Jouko (2010). Arsenic to zoonoses. One hundred questions about the environment and health. http://en.opasnet.org/w/Arsenic_to_zoonoses