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EH Workforce Development: Protecting Public Health and the Environment

What Is the Environmental Health Workforce?

Environmental health (EH) practitioners at the federal, state, local, tribal, and territorial levels are on the front lines in preventing illness. They ensure the safety of food service establishments, investigate environmental causes of foodborne and waterborne outbreaks, and respond to outbreaks and other disasters. EH programs are very diverse across the country but are often the home for permitting and inspection for drinking water and wastewater, restaurants, swimming pools, and other facilities. In addition to food and water, the EH service system is also engaged in sustainable development, vector control, air quality, and injury prevention.

Diseases spread by contaminated foods continue to challenge the public health system. And foodborne illness is often associated with environmental factors. For example, in the 2006 outbreak of Escherichia coli (E. coli) associated with spinach, contaminated irrigation water was a possible source of contamination. In addition, food and waterborne illnesses are a major concern during and after hurricanes and other natural disasters. People may be exposed to these illnesses through sewage-contaminated waters after floods and in mass sheltering environments when they are evacuated from their homes.

CDC’s goal is to create a strong, sustained, and prepared EH workforce to meet today’s challenges and improve the health and safety of all. Our country’s ability to provide us with safe food and water rests on seamlessly integrating information and expertise related to the host, agent and environmental aspects of disease and outbreaks. EH service programs represent a key segment of the multidisciplinary approach required to ensure U.S. citizens of safe food and water.

EH professionals play a crucial role in decreasing illnesses in our communities and protecting people from traditional and emerging environmental factors that may adversely affect human health. As a result, the workforce challenges facing this critical component of the public health system are a concern for public and community health.


Association of Environmental Health Academic Programs (AEHAP) – career options and educational programs in environmental health

Association of Schools and Programs of Public Health (ASPPH) – represents the deans, faculty, and students of accredited member schools of public health and other programs seeking accreditation as schools of public health

Association of State and Territorial Health Officials (ASTHO) – supports agencies in preparing for accreditation, including general performance improvement learning opportunities and the promotion of peer-to-peer learning

Board of Health Recommendations for Hiring Qualified Environmental Health Practitioners[PDF – 1.5 MB] (National Association of Local Boards of Health [NALBOH]) – document to help local health agencies address environmental health workforce issues

Council on Education for Public Health (CEPH) – accredits schools of public health and certain public health programs offered in settings other than schools of public

Environmental Health Core Competencies [PDF – 555 KB] – fourteen core competencies for local environmental health practitioners are identified to improve the effectiveness of their work

National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO) – national membership organization representing local governmental public health departments (LHDs).

National Environmental Health Science and Protection Accreditation Council (EHAC) – develops accreditation guidelines for institutions of higher education