Skip to main content
U.S. flag

An official website of the United States government

U.S. Geological Survey environmental health science strategy — Providing environmental health science for a changing world

October 1, 2019

Executive Summary

America has an abundance of natural resources. We have bountiful clean water, fertile soil, and unrivaled national parks, wildlife refuges, and public lands. These resources enrich our lives and preserve our health and wellbeing. These resources have been maintained because of our history of respect for their value and an enduring commitment to their vigilant protection. Awareness of the social, economic, and personal value of the health of our environment is increasing. The emergence of environmentally driven diseases caused by exposure to contaminants and pathogens is a growing concern worldwide. New health threats and patterns of established threats are affected by both natural and anthropogenic changes to the environment. Human activities are key drivers of emerging (new and re-emerging) health threats. Societal demands for land and natural resources, quality of life, and economic prosperity lead to environmental change. Natural earth processes, climate trends, and related climatic events will compound the environmental impact of human activities. These environmental drivers will influence exposure to disease agents, including viral, bacterial, prion, and fungal pathogens, parasites, synthetic chemicals and substances, natural earth materials, toxins, and other biogenic compounds.

The U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) defines environmental health science broadly as the interdisciplinary study of relations among the quality of the physical environment, the health of the living environment, and human health. The interactions among these three spheres are driven by human activities, ecological processes, and natural earth processes; the interactions affect exposure to contaminants and pathogens and the severity of environmentally driven diseases in animals and people. This definition provides USGS with a framework for synthesizing natural science information from across the Bureau and providing it to environmental, natural resource, agricultural, and public health managers.

USGS specializes in science at the environment-health interface, by characterizing the processes that affect the interaction among the physical environment, the living environment, and people, and the resulting factors that affect ecological and human exposure to disease agents. The USGS is a Federal science agency with a broad range of natural science expertise relevant to environmental health. USGS provides scientific information and tools as a scientific basis for management and policy decisionmaking.

This report describes a 10-year strategy that encompasses the portfolio of USGS environmental health science. It summarizes national environmental health priorities that USGS is best suited to address, and will serve as a strategic framework for USGS environmental health science goals, actions, and outcomes for the next decade. Implementation of this strategy is intended to aid coordination of USGS environmental health activities and to provide a focal point for disseminating information to stakeholders.

The “One Health” paradigm advocated by the World Health Organization (WHO; World Health Organization, 2011), and the American Veterinary Medical Association (AVMA; American Veterinary Medical Association, 2008), among others, is based on a general recognition that the health of humans, animals, and the environment are inextricably linked. Thus, successful efforts to protect that health will require increased interdisciplinary research and increased communication and collaboration among the broader scientific and health community. This strategy is built upon that paradigm.