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Environmental Quality

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The environment directly affects health status and plays a major role in quality of life, years of healthy life lived, and health disparities. Poor air quality is linked to premature death, cancer, and long-term damage to respiratory and cardiovascular systems. Secondhand smoke containing toxic and cancer-causing chemicals contributes to heart disease and lung cancer in nonsmoking adults. Globally, nearly 25% of all deaths and the total disease burden can be attributed to environmental factors.1

Poor environmental quality has its greatest impact on people whose health status is already at risk. For example, nearly 1 in 10 children and 1 in 12 adults in the United States have asthma, which is caused, triggered, and exacerbated by environmental factors such as air pollution and secondhand smoke. Yet:

  • Approximately 127 million people in the United States live in counties that exceed national air quality standards.2
  • 88 million nonsmokers are exposed to secondhand smoke each year.3

Safe air, land, and water are fundamental to a healthy community environment. An environment free of hazards, such as secondhand smoke, carbon monoxide, allergens, lead, and toxic chemicals, helps prevent disease and other health problems. Implementing and enforcing environmental standards and regulations, monitoring pollution levels and human exposures, building environments that support healthy lifestyles, and considering the risks of pollution in decision-making can improve health and quality of life for all Americans.


The Environmental Quality Leading Health Indicators are:


Health Impact of Environmental Quality

Poor air quality contributes to cancers, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and other illnesses. Poor water quality can lead to gastrointestinal illness and a range of other conditions, including neurological problems and cancer. Some chemicals in and around homes and workplaces can contribute to acute poisonings and other toxic effects.

The built environment (such as schools, parks, greenways, and transportation systems) affects both individual health and environmental quality. For example, supporting bicycling as a primary mode of transportation increases physical activity and reduces pollution and accidents from motor vehicles.4

References

1Prüss-Üstün A, Corvalán C. Preventing Disease Through Healthy Environments. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization; 2006. Available from http://www.who.int/quantifying_ehimpacts/publications/preventingdisease.pdf [PDF - 8.4MB] External Web Site Policy

2U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. Our Nation’s Air: Status and Trends Through 2008. Washington, DC: 2010. Available from http://www.epa.gov/airtrends/2010

3Office of Smoking and Health, National Center for Chronic Disease Prevention and Health Promotion, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Tobacco use: smoking and secondhand smoke. CDC Vital Signs. Atlanta, GA: 2010. Available from http://www.cdc.gov/vitalsigns/pdf/2010-09-vitalsigns.pdf [PDF - 4.43MB]

4Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. CDC Transportation Recommendations. Atlanta, GA: 2010. Available from http://www.cdc.gov/transportation

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