Health Professionals Can Protect Water Quality: Tools for Educators, Advocates, and Practitioners

Health Professionals Can Protect Water Quality: Tools for Educators, Advocates, and Practitioners

Rosemary Ziemba, Benjamin E. Cuker, Joyce Stein, Rebecca Meuninck, Jiayi Angela Wan
DOI: 10.4018/978-1-5225-5490-5.ch016
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Emerging research shows adverse health outcomes such as diabetes, obesity, cancer, and neurotoxicity from water pollutants such as flame retardants, endocrine disruptors, and pharmaceuticals. Medical waste and energy use affects water quality and quantity. This chapter provides strategies for health professionals to promote water stewardship at personal, organizational and policy levels. Organizations such as Health Care Without Harm, Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments and the Ecology Center offer resources for improving education of health professionals and provide allies for change. Individual advocacy through writing op-eds, policy briefs, meeting with legislators and participation in coalitions allows health professionals to interpret the science behind the need for policy changes. Recommendations for health care curricula prepare students to develop sustainable practices through inter-professional collaboration. Environmentalists can use this information to better engage health professionals in promoting change.
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The philosophy for this chapter is grounded by the definition of health promoted by the World Health Organization (WHO, 1948), and in the conceptual framework of determinants of health—both physical and social (Healthy People 2020, 2014). According to the WHO, “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity” (1948, Preamble). In the US, the practice and education of health providers historically focused on the treatment of disease, or a “medical model”, but the WHO definition speaks to a more holistic state of health that results from determinants of well-being. HCPs must be attentive not only to the bio-medical aspects and health behavior of individuals, but also to the physical and social structures that shape human behavior and make holistic health possible. Physical structures include the built and natural environment, and social structures include cultural values and political systems. Together physical and social structures combine to drive and constrain community attributes. Will healthy or unhealthy behaviors prevail? Will social justice or inequity characterize the community? Will the population derive health from interacting sustainably with the natural world, or will their well-being succumb to a polluted and degraded environment?

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