What is Environmental Public Health?

June 4, 2014 | Environmental Health

By Environmental Health Services

For most people in Gallatin County, the word “environment” relates to the natural world: the mountains, forests, rivers, lakes, animals, and the air around us. To others, the environment brings the green movement to mind, or the motto “Reduce, reuse, recycle.” But the environment is really everything in the world surrounding us. When environments become polluted or contaminated, they can cause harmful health effects in human beings.

“Public health” is another term that is frequently misunderstood. Recent research has confirmed that many people think it refers to government health programs. But public health is really about protecting populations: tribes, communities, cities, states, and nations—from threats to their health, safety, and well-being.

Therefore, environmental public health focuses on protecting groups of people from threats to their health and safety posed by their environments. The Gallatin City-County Health Department’s (GCCHD) Environmental Health Services (EHS) focuses on protecting public health in the environments in which we live, work, eat, and play.


Protection Against Environmental Health Threats

Protecting people from environmental health threats requires an understanding of basic human needs and how the environment can affect them. Here’s a brief rundown:

Basic physical needs that are required for life:

  • Air
  • Water
  • Food
  • Shelter

Community needs (that make life easier):

  • Family
  • Church or other social group
  • Access to medical care
  • Jobs
  • Resources
  • Safety
  • Sanitation

Emotional, spiritual, relational needs that contribute to personal happiness:

  • A sense of control of life choices and events
  • Fulfillment
  • Ability to be close to others


Meeting the needs listed above contributes to our physical, mental, and emotional health, and staying healthy depends on the safety of our environments. When you think about it, all of these needs are interconnected. For example, natural disasters, such as floods or forest fires, can endanger our physical health by affecting the safety of food, water, and shelter. Disasters also create unsafe and unhealthy communities by disabling community services or making access to medical care more difficult. Finally, disasters can affect our mental health by creating family stress and eliminating any sense of control.

The staff at GCCHD EHS work every day to promote environmental health and safety for all. For any questions, call us at 406-582-3120, or email ehs@gallatin.mt.gov.

For more information about Healthy Homes & Environments in Gallatin County, go here.