Environmental Health

Across the world, the environment is a key determinant of health and well-being. Unimproved water and sanitation, ambient air pollution, indoor pollution from solid fuels, and lead exposure are among the leading contributors to global burden of disease. Although the twentieth century saw public health triumphs in many parts of the “developed” world, these major contributors to disease burden remain critical public health challenges in many countries. In addition, many current and emerging exposures in food, water, soil, the air, and consumer products adversely affect humans in important ways. For example, particulate matter increases cardiovascular and respiratory morbidity and mortality. Other chemicals adversely affect fertility, child development, brain function, thyroid hormones, and the immune system. Global climate change leads to an array of health challenges, ranging from infectious disease to heat stress to natural disasters.

The Master of Public Health with a concentration in environmental health equips students with knowledge and skills to work on these public health challenges. The program provides a foundation in environmental health science with an emphasis on public health practice, and faculty bring the real world into the classroom at every opportunity. Multiple classes offer the opportunity for field projects and engagement with communities or policy makers.  Students can enhance their learning and gain additional experience by participating in departmental research.

Career pathways for graduates include work as directors of public health or environmental health for cities and towns, as program managers in state and federal health agencies, and in many roles in nonprofit agencies. Other alumni hold research positions in public and private health research organizations, work as consultants in private risk assessment companies, or are physicians in occupational and environmental clinics. Each year, SPH alumni enter a wide range of jobs aimed at preventing environmental exposures and protecting public health.

Competencies

In addition to the program competencies that all MPH graduates master, upon completing the requirements for the MPH in Environmental Health, graduates are able to:

  • explain the scientific characteristics, including exposure and mode of action, of major biological, chemical, physical hazards that result in human health risk
  • manipulate environmental data, calculate dose and exposure, and present analyses
  • critically read and describe the hypothesis, experimental design, methods, and results and conclusions presented in papers from technical journal articles in environmental health

Emphasis Areas

Students who wish to delve deeper into a specific area of Environmental Health can use concentration and School-wide electives to focus their studies in one of four emphasis areas. Your advisor can help you decide if an emphasis is right for you and suggest which courses to take within that emphasis. For full program details, visit the Environmental Health Concentrator’s Guide. Prospective students should contact the Environmental Health staff for additional information.

Environmental Epidemiology Emphasis

The Environmental Epidemiology emphasis focuses on the design and conduct of studies of specific environmental exposures and of diseases with environmental causes, tracking diseases and hazards (surveillance), and the methodology used to assess patterns of environmentally related diseases. Classes are taught in close collaboration with the Department of Epidemiology and include specialized instruction in Geographic Information Systems (GIS) methods and exposure assessment. This emphasis prepares students for research and positions in public health departments.

Environmental Exposure & Risk Assessment Emphasis

The courses in the Environmental Exposures & Risk Assessment emphasis provide hands‐on teaching of the tools for assessing exposure to, and associated health risks of, environmental hazards found in air, water, soil, and other parts of the environment. Public health department practice, work with agencies such as the Environmental Protection Agency, research, consulting, and exposure assessment positions are all compatible with the training offered in this emphasis.

Global Ecology, Environmental Sustainability & Health Emphasis

Students pursuing the Global Ecology, Environmental Sustainability & Health emphasis study the environmental health impacts of industrial development in the world’s poorer nations, sustainable methods of sanitation, and infectious diseases. Classroom instruction prepares students for work in international settings and for nongovernmental organization (NGO), governmental, and advocacy work.

Community-Based Environmental Health & Justice

The Community-Based Environmental Health & Justice emphasis equips graduates with the knowledge and skills necessary to develop strategies for current and emerging issues in environmental health at the local level. Topic areas include air quality, disaster preparedness, drinking water, food protection, hazardous materials, land uses, solid and hazardous wastes, and wastewater. The intersections of race, class, and health inequalities are explored, and models of community-based participatory research and interventions are studied. Information on related legal and policy issues are also addressed. Students from this area typically go on to work for public health agencies and nongovernmental organizations.