Earth Today | Prioritising environmental health: The ESL way
HUMANS HAVE been implicated as the main drivers of many public and environmental health challenges caused by actions that degrade air, land and water quality while compromising ecosystem services.
The spread of the virus that causes COVID-19 has been linked to human-animal interactions as well as to food and social systems linked to cultural practices. Whereas no direct causative linkages have been established between climate change and the pandemic, many of the factors associated with climate change and its impacts, such as deforestation and habitat loss, also increase the risk of disease and further pandemics.
Over the past year, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, multiple sectors were forced to reduce operations or even shut down, resulting in global economic and livelihood losses. Could the severity of the impacts experienced from this pandemic have been less? What if our approach to planning and development was different? We have heard, repeatedly, whether from the World Health Organization or the United States Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, that there is a relationship between proper ventilation and reducing the spread of COVID-19 indoors.
Ventilation, in simple terms, is the exchange of stale air with clean for better-quality air. Its importance to a building’s health is just as important as it is to the proper functioning of our lungs.
Environmental Solutions Limited (ESL), over the last two decades, through its occupational, safety and health services, has conducted more than 100 indoor air-quality assessments of varying complexities across all business sectors. A majority of these assessments indicated that poor ventilation was a major issue within our buildings.
To compound the matter, persons have resorted to the use of any available aerosolised sanitiser as a response to getting rid of the COVID-19 virus indoors. The consequences of these activities and building inadequacies have had serious impacts on employees and building occupants, especially those with compromised or highly sensitive respiratory systems.
The negative implications of using certain methods to kill the virus must be considered; poor ventilation and related issues can negatively impact the bottom line of companies primarily through business closure or workforce reduction.
This pandemic has also brought to the forefront the importance of providing safe water, sanitation and hygienic conditions, especially in our health and food sectors, to minimise the risks of spreading communicable disease. Water provided through our taps normally meets both our local and international drinking water standards and is, therefore, considered safe for consumption. What about other water produced for consumption, be it trucked or bottled? And can the same be said for wastewater being discharged to our environment?
From our many years of testing water of various matrices through our ISO 17025 accredited lab, the proper disinfection of wastewater seems to be a recurring problem with many wastewater treatment plants. The unsatisfactory treatment and disinfection of wastewater from domestic and industrial uses can enter rivers and other water sources, which may result in water-borne diseases, such as gastroenteritis.
The reuse of improperly disinfected effluent for irrigation can also result in serious public health-related issues. It should be noted that COVID-19 has been detected in wastewater samples; however, it has not been proven whether the virus can be transmitted through contact with this matrix.
Public health and our economic survivability are intrinsically linked and dependent on the health of our environment.
ESL has lived its mission to harmonise development with the health and well-being of the natural and built environment. Through our Environmental Health and Analytical Services Division, we continue to work with Jamaican and regional governments, businesses, and communities to identify and quantify pollutants through the considered application of scientific methods.
Our interdisciplinary team of experts transcends technical and knowledge barriers to provide the quality of service and solutions necessary in building adaptive strategies for business and government towards greater resilience.
Contributed by Rashidah Khan-Haqq, ESL