| By Brenda Wilmoth Lerner, RN |
Several years ago, for the previous edition of The Gale Encyclopedia of Environmental Health, I wrote the foreword from the privileged vantage point of a balcony overlooking a lush, tropical rainforest in South America. Although cognizant of health threats nearby in the otherwise magnificent jungle, including pristine-appearing streams that were actually heavily polluted with mercury from illegal mining, along with the constant buzzing of mosquitoes in a malaria transmission zone, little did I anticipate the challenges that would soon envelope the world with the emergence of the SARS CoV-2 virus and the COVID-19 pandemic that followed.
COVID-19 inhabits many pages of the latest, expanded third edition of The Gale Encyclopedia of Environmental Health, just as it permeated our world to remind us that the threat of new zoonotic diseases emerging from the environment remains. The “COVID-19” entry outlays the most likely scenario for the natural emergence of the virus and gives examples of changes in both the natural and built environments as humans endured and responded to the pandemic. The “Wastewater Surveillance” entry explains how environmental monitoring can serve as a useful early indicator of further outbreaks as the SARS-CoV-2 virus evolves, adopts patterns, and settles into its ultimate ecological niche.
The pandemic exposed inequities for some people in their living, learning, and working environments, along with their access to health care and ability to take recommended precautions against infection. Addressing inequities in environmental health is a major focus of the newest edition, and the entry “Disparities in Environmental Health” gives an overview of the issue, while “Children’s Environmental Health” and “Women’s Environmental Health” provide a narrower focus. Specific entries address the disparities in individual ethnic groups. Closely tied to these disparities are the topics of “Environmental Health Ethics,” the “Environmental Justice Index,” and “Social Determinants of Health,” all covered in this new edition.
If epidemiology is the backbone of environmental health, then “exposure science” composes the working limbs. Many potentially hazardous substances to which humans can be exposed, both naturally occurring and human-made, are newly included in the latest edition of The Gale Encyclopedia of Environmental Health. These new topics range from those pervasive in our environment or in everyday use, such as Microplastics, Essential Oils, Cosmetics and Personal Care Products, Crumb Rubber in playgrounds, and Particulate Matter Pollution, to those found less commonly but presenting exposure concerns, like Perchlorate, Trichloroethylene (TCE), and PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances).
Environmental health is an expansive subject and one that finally made the agenda of the world’s major climate conference, COP28, in Dubai this past December for the first time. The director general of the World Health Organization, Tedros A. Ghebreyesus, told delegates at the convention that considering human environmental health alongside climate change impacts is long overdue. This expanded view gives me hope that challenges in environmental health can be made fully visible. The new third edition of The Gale Encyclopedia of Environmental Health gives me hope that students and others learning about this expansive field will want to tackle these challenges.