Environmental Health and Policy

Bhavna Shamasunder, ,
Occidental College


This is an introductory interdisciplinary environmental health science course that will introduce students to basic concepts in environmental health such as hazard and risk as well as topics such as water access and equality, pesticides, and air quality. Utilizing case studies both locally and globally, this course seeks to provide students with a scientific understanding, policy context, and community lens into environmental health problems. Students may also enroll in Introduction to GIS that will use case studies from environmental health.

Course Size:

Course Format:
Lecture and lab

Institution Type:
Private four-year institution, primarily undergraduate

Course Context:

This is an introductory course that satisfies the college-wide core science requirement. It is an elective course in the Urban and Environmental Policy Department and will be taught for the first time in January 2014.

Course Content:

Topics to be covered include food safety, water access and equality, pesticides, air quality, the identification of environmental hazards, the assessment of various risks (including exposure to dangerous chemicals used in toys, food, workplaces, and other activities), and the social and biological causes of disease (epidemiology), Students will gain an understanding of environmental health analytical and scientific methods. We explore ways that communities and policy-makers seek to address environmental health challenges. A common thread running through the course is an examination of how exposure to environmental and health risks vary among different population groups, in the Los Angeles area, in the United States, and around the world. We also explore the role of science in environmental policy-making, the enforcement of regulations, and the efforts of community groups to influence public policy.

Course Goals:

This course introduces students to environmental justice through the lens of environmental health. In particular, I want students to understand core concepts in environmental health science and gain an analysis of regulatory and policy decisions that influence individual and community level health outcomes.

Students should have :
- Demonstrated knowledge of scientific and analytical methods in environmental health;

- Critical understanding of environmental health issues and its role in public policy decision-making;

-Basic methodology of cancer and non-cancer risk assessment for environmental health regulation;

-the complexities and environmental justice implications (and critique) of utilizing risk assessment as a regulatory tool;

- Ability to critically assess environmental health issues appearing in scholarly publications and the popular press

- Realize the importance of multidisciplinary approaches for solving environmental health problems;

- Gain a critical understanding and discernment of scientific, community, social, and political frameworks for understanding conflicts in the realms of science, environmental policy-making and regulation.

Course Features:

In addition to problem sets that help students practice core scientific learning, the final project for the course is a science policy analysis of an environmental health issue. Students must address the multiple dimensions of a particular issue and turn in assignments that call on them to utilize scientific writing, popular writing (such as an op-ed), and a policy analysis.

Course Philosophy:

This course is designed to provide students with core skills in environmental health in addition to teaching with case studies that will be coordinated with the Introduction to GIS course. As two courses that can be taken concurrently, students can gain scientific and spatial understandings of environmental health issues as well as a policy analysis. I will be teaching this course for the first time in Spring 2014.



References and Notes:

I will be choosing a textbook and developing my syllabus this coming summer 2013.