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Your Environment. Your Health.

Environmental Health Sciences Glossary

This glossary is intended to help understand terms related to Environmental Health Science. Some terms courtesy of the National Library of Medicine.

Search by Subject: 

A

Acid Rain:
The result of sulfur dioxide (SO2) and nitrogen oxides (NOx) reacting in the atmosphere with water; it then returns to earth as polluted rain, fog, or snow.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Activated Carbon Filtration System:
A gas-phase air filter that removes gaseous pollutants using a material called a sorbent, such as activated carbon, to collect pollutants.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
allergens:
Any substance that produces an allergic reaction when it comes into contact with a sensitive individual.

Source: Dictionary of Environmental Health
Allergic Reaction:
An abnormal physiological response by a sensitive person to a chemical or physical stimuli that causes no response in nonsensitive individuals.

Source: Illustrated Dictionary and Resource Directory of Environmental and Occupational Health
Anemia:
A condition in which the blood does not carry enough oxygen to the rest of the body; the most common cause of anemia is not having enough iron.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
antibiotic:
A chemical originally produced by a microorganism, which inhibits or prevents the growth of another microorganism. Antibiotics are not effective against viruses.

Source: Dictionary of Environmental Health
Aquaculture:
Also known as fish or shellfish farming, grows seafood in controlled waters for commercial or recreational use.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Aquifers:
An underground level or permeable rock, sand, or gravel saturated by groundwater.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
asbestos:
Any of several minerals (as chrysotile) that readily separate into long flexible fibers that have been used especially formerly as fireproof insulating materials.

Source: Merriam Webster
assays:
A qualitative or quantitative test for a particular chemical effect.

Source: : Illustrated Dictionary and Resource Directory of Environmental and Occupational Health
Atomic Nuclei:
The small, dense region consisting of protons and neutrons at the center of an atom.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

B

Barometer:
An instrument for determining the pressure of the atmosphere.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Bioaccumulate:
Accumulation of substances in living organisms as they take in contaminated air, water, or food; occurs when a substance is absorbed faster than it can be excreted.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Biologics:
The immunization vaccines, antigens, anti-toxins, and other preparations made from living organisms and their products intended for use in diagnosing, immunizing, and treating humans and animals or in related research.

Source: Illustrated Dictionary and Resource Directory of Environmental and Occupational Health
Biomagnify:
The process by which a compound (such as a pollutant or pesticide) increases its concentration in the tissues of organisms as it travels up the food chain.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Black Lung Disease:
Coal worker's pneumoconiosis, also known as black lung disease, results from breathing in dust from coal, graphite, or manmade carbon over a long period.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
bronchitis:
An inflammation of the bronchial linings causing a persistent cough, copious amounts of sputum, and involuntary muscle spasms that constrict the airways.

Source: : Illustrated Dictionary and Resource Directory of Environmental and Occupational Health
Buckyballs:
Is a spherical fullerene molecule with the formula C60.

Source: Wikipedia

C

cadmium:
A soft, silver-white metal in its pure state used in the production of nickel-cadmium batteries; in metal plating, plastics, and synthetics; for alloys and other miscellaneous uses.

Source: Illustrated Dictionary and Resource Directory of Environmental and Occupational Health
carcinogen:
Any substance that is capable of inducing the production of cancer.

Source: Dictionary of Environmental Health
Cataracts:
A clouding of the lens in the eye that affects vision; cataracts are very common in older people.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Chlorides:
Compounds of chlorine with another element or group.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Climate Change:
Climate is the average weather in a region over time. Climate change refers to major, long-term changes in temperature, rainfall, snow, or wind patterns. Natural factors or human activities may cause climate change and impact the environment.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Coliform Bacteria:
Bacteria that are always present in the digestive tracts of animals, including humans, and are found in their wastes; also found in plant and soil material.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Consumer Confidence Report (CCR):
An annual water quality report or a drinking water quality report, that provides information on your local drinking water quality.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Corrosion:
The action, process, or effect of corroding, which is to wear away gradually usually by chemical action.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Creosote:
A wood preservative derived from the distillation of tar from wood or coal.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Crustaceans:
Any of a large class of mostly aquatic arthropods that include lobsters, shrimp, crabs, wood lice, water fleas, and barnacles.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Cryptosporidium:
Any of a large class of mostly aquatic arthropods that include lobsters, shrimp, crabs, wood.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Crystalline Silica:
A basic component of soil, sand, granite, and many other minerals; may become particles small enough to inhale when workers chip, cut, drill, or grind objects that contain it.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Curing:
To add preservatives and flavors (salt, sugar, nitrates) to meat in order to improve flavor, color, and shelf life.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

D

Dander:
Tiny scales from hair, feathers, or skin that may cause allergies and affect indoor air quality; household pets are sources of saliva and animal dander.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
DDT:
A colorless odorless water-insoluble insecticide.

Source: Merriam Webster
Dengue Fever:
An infection caused by a virus spread by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
diabetes:
The name commonly give to a condition for a disorder characterized by a raised blood sugar (glucose) level.

Source: Dictionary of Environmental Health
Diethylstilbestrol (DES):
A synthetic form of the female hormone estrogen, linked to a type of cancer of the cervix and vagina, that was prescribed to pregnant women between 1940 and 1971 to prevent miscarriage and related pregnancy complications.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Domoic Acid Poisoning:
A neurotoxin contained in some fish and shellfish; exposure to this compound affects the brain, causing seizures and possibly death.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Dredges:
A tool usually in the form of an oblong iron frame with an attached bag net used especially for gathering fish and shellfish.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Drywell:
A hole in the ground filled with gravel or rubble to receive drainage water and allow it to percolate away.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

E

E. coli:
A type of bacteria (Escherichia coli) that lives in intestines; most types of E. coli are harmless, but some types can cause diarrhea.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Ecosystem:
The totality of life within a given interrelated and self-sustaining system existing in a defined geographical area.

Source: Dictionary of Environmental Health
Embalming Fluid:
A fluid injected into the arteries to preserve a dead body.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Emissions:
A discharge of pollutants into the environment; generally used in regard to discharges into the air.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
emphysema:
A chronic disease of the lungs in which the lung tissue becomes destroyed and the affected area is unable to participate in the transfer of oxygen to the body.

Source: Dictionary of Environmental Health
Encephalitis:
An inflammation of the brain caused by a viral (usually) infection or a bacterial infection.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Endocrine gland:
A structure in the body that produces hormones which are then secreted directly into the bloodstream.

Source: Dictionary of Environmental Health
endometriosis:
The presence and growth of functioning endometrial tissue in places other than the uterus that often results in severe pain and infertility.

Source: Merriam Webster
Environmental Health:
Pollution of the air, water, or soil can lead to health problems. Environmental health is the practice of identifying and reducing exposure to these pollutants.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Environmental Justice:
The EPA defines environmental justice as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, culture, national origin, income, and educational levels with respect to protective environmental laws, regulations, and policies.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
epigenesis:
Development of a plant or animal from an egg or spore through a series of processes in which unorganized cell masses differentiate into organs and organ systems.

Source: Merriam Webster
Ergonomic Injury:
An injury resulting from the cumulative effect of repetitive motions or repetitive stress (e.g., sustained awkward posture).

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Excavation:
A cavity formed by cutting, digging, or scooping.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

F

fatty tissues:
The fat storage tissue in the bodies of animals. It is primarily a food storage mechanism but also provides thermal insulation and protects internal organs from external physical damage.

Source: Dictionary of Environmental Health
Fertilizers:
A substance that adds inorganic or organic plant nutrients to soil and improves its ability to grow crops, trees, or other vegetation.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Fiberglass:
A composite material of glass fibers in resin; used in nail wrap applications to brace natural nails or artificial tips.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Fission:
The splitting of an atomic nucleus resulting in the release of large amounts of energy.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Fossil Fuels:
A fuel (such as coal, oil, or natural gas) formed in the earth from plant or animal remains; fossil fuels are the nation's principal source of electricity; they cannot be replenished once they are extracted and burned.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Fumigants:
A pesticide used to control or destroy fungi on food or grain crops.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Furans:
A flammable liquid chemical compound that is obtained from wood oils of pines or made synthetically and is used especially in organic synthesis; also: any of various derivatives of furan.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

G

gamma rays:
Radiant electromagnetic energy of a very short wavelength capable of penetrating most substances; it is given off by radioactive substances and during fission and fusion reactions.

Source: Illustrated Dictionary and Resource Directory of Environmental and Occupational Health
Gelatin:
A gummy material obtained from animal tissues by boiling.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Geothermal Energy:
Heat energy generated by the earth's interior.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Greenhouse Gas:
Any gas that absorbs infrared radiation in the atmosphere.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Groundwater:
The water found below the surface of the land and contained in the pore spaces of saturated rock, sand, or gravel; the source of water found in wells and springs.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

H

Hantavirus:
Hantavirus pulmonary syndrome, a rare but deadly viral infection spread by mice and rats.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
hormone:
A chemical substance in animals secreted by the endocrine gland, used to regulate metabolic activity.

Source: Dictionary of Environmental Health
Hypoallergenic:
Having little likelihood of causing an allergic response.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

I

Incomplete Combustion:
The incomplete burning of natural gas, gasoline, liquefied petroleum gas, oil, diesel fuel, kerosene, coal, charcoal, or wood that produces carbon monoxide.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Ingestion (Swallowing):
Absorbing by eating or drinking.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Inorganic:
Material such as sand, salt, iron, calcium salts, and other mineral materials; inorganic substances are of mineral origin, whereas organic substances are usually of animal or plant origin.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Insecticides:
Substances intended to repel, kill, or control insects.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

L

leukemia:
A form of cancer of the blood in which the number of white blood cells is increased.

Source: Dictionary of Environmental Health
Liquefied Natural Gas:
Natural gas converted to liquid form by cooling to a very low temperature.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Low-emitting:
Gives off relatively small amounts of something.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Lyme Disease:
A bacterial infection spread by the bite of an infected tick.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

M

Malaria:
A serious disease caused by a parasite and spread by the bite of an infected mosquito; malaria is a major cause of death worldwide, but it is almost wiped out in the United States.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Masonry:
Work performed by a skilled worker who builds by laying units of substantial material (such as stone or brick).

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Melatonin:
A hormone that is derived from serotonin, is secreted by the pineal gland especially in response to darkness, and has been linked to the regulation of circadian rhythms.

Source: Merriam Webster
Meningitis:
A viral or bacterial disease marked by inflammation of membranes in the brain and spinal cord; swimming or playing in polluted water can cause meningitis.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Mesothelioma:
A usually malignant tumor derived from mesothelial tissue that lines the lungs, stomach, heart, and other organs; the cancer usually starts in the lungs, but can also start in the abdomen or other organs.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Metabolite:
Any chemical produced as a result of a living organism’s metabolism or another substance it has absorbed.

Source: Dictionary of Environmental Health
metastasis:
The process whereby a malignant cell is detached from a primary tumor and is disseminated in the body to set up secondary tumors elsewhere.

Source: Dictionary of Environmental Health
methylmercury:
Any of various toxic compounds of mercury containing the complex CH3Hg? that often occur as pollutants which accumulate in living organisms (as fish) especially in higher levels of a food chain.

Source: Merriam Webster
Micrometers:
A unit of measure; size of particulate matter particles is measured in micrometers; the average human hair is about 70 micrometers in diameter.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Mineral:
An inorganic substance; something neither animal nor vegetable.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Miscarriage:
An unexpected loss of pregnancy.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Moorings:
A place where a boat or ship are held fast with lines or anchors.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Mortuary:
An establishment with facilities for the preparation of the dead for burial or cremation; a funeral home or morgue.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Munitions:
Military weapons, ammunition, and equipment.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

N

nanotechnology:
The science of manipulating materials on an atomic or molecular scale especially to build microscopic devices.

Source: Merriam Webster
nephropathy:
An abnormal state of the kidney; especially: one associated with or secondary to some other pathological process.

Source: Merriam Webster
neurotransmitter:
A substance that facilitates the transmission of the signal from a nerve to the cell.

Source: Dictionary of Environmental Health
Neutrons:
An uncharged elementary particle present in all known atomic nuclei except the hydrogen nucleus.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

O

Off-gas:
A term referring to the fact that volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in our homes are released by consumer and household products, and these chemicals then enter the indoor air we breathe.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Ore:
A naturally occurring mineral containing a valuable substance (such as metal) for which it is mined and worked.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Organic Matter:
Of, relating to, or derived from living organisms.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
oxidative damage:
Physiological stress on the body that is caused by the cumulative damage done by free radicals inadequately neutralized by antioxidants and that is held to be associated with aging.

Source: Merriam Webster
Ozone:
A reactive form of oxygen that is a bluish irritating gas of pungent odor, formed naturally in the atmosphere by a photochemical reaction and a major air pollutant in the lower atmosphere but a beneficial component of the upper atmosphere, used for oxidizing, bleaching, disinfecting, and deodorizing.

Source: Merriam Webster

P

Parasite:
An organism living in, with, or on another organism (host); gets nutrients from its host.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Petroleum:
An oily liquid, made of a complex mixture of hydrocarbons with small amounts of other substances, that occurs in many places in the upper strata of the earth; is prepared for use as gasoline, naphtha, or other products by various refining processes.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Pharmaceuticals:
Of or relating to the production and sale of drugs and medicine.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Phthalic anhydride:
A white solid with a characteristic, acrid odor. It is used in the manufacture of plasticizers; in the manufacture of unsaturated polyester resins for use in structural building parts, swimming pools, automotive parts, and luggage.

Source: Illustrated Dictionary and Resource Directory of Environmental and Occupational Health
Plague:
An infection caused by the bacterium Yersinia pesti, found mainly in rats and in the fleas that feed on them.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
plasticizers:
An additive to paint, varnish, cement or similar to increase its workability.

Source: Dictionary of Environmental Health
Pleural Membrane:
The delicate layer of tissue that surrounds the lungs.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
pneumonia:
An inflammation of the tissues of the lung.

Source: Dictionary of Environmental Health
pulmonary fibrosis:
The scarring or thickening of the lungs.

Source: National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute (NHLBI)
Pyrogenic:
A substance that causes a rise in body temperature.

Source: Illustrated Dictionary and Resource Directory of Environmental and Occupational Health

R

radiation:
The transmission of radiant energy in the forms of electromagnetic waves, streams of particles, sound or heat.

Source: Dictionary of Environmental Health
Radioactive Tracers:
A radioactive drug used to create images of internal organs and to diagnose and treat disease; specially designed cameras allow doctors to track the path of the drug as it moves through the body.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Radioactive Waste:
Waste exhibiting radioactivity, which is the property of emitting energetic particles (such as electrons or alpha particles) or waves resulting from the disintegration of atomic nuclei.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Radioactivity:
The quality of emitting or the emission of particulate or electromagnetic radiation resulting from the decay of the nuclei of unstable elements.

Source: Illustrated Dictionary and Resource Directory of Environmental and Occupational Health
Rat-Bite Fever:
A rare bacterial disease spread by the bite of an infected rodent.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Reverse Osmosis System:
A drinking water purification technology that forces water through a semipermeable membrane to remove most contaminants; also used in wastewater treatment.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Riptides (Rip Current):
A strong, usually narrow surface current flowing outward from a shore; at ocean beaches, strong surf and riptides can injure swimmers or cause them to drown.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Rocky Mountain Spotted Fever:
A bacterial disease spread by the bite of an infected tick.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

S

Salmonella:
A group of bacteria that is a common cause of foodborne illness.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Septic:
Used for sewage treatment and disposal.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Silica Dust:
A natural compound of silicon and oxygen found mostly in sand; long-term exposure to fine particulate silica dust from quartz rock causes progressive lung injury, silicosis.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Silicosis:
A lung disease caused by breathing in (inhaling) silica dust.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
sinusitis:
An inflammation of the sinus.

Source: Illustrated Dictionary and Resource Directory of Environmental and Occupational Health
Smelter:
A facility that melts or fuses ore to separate its metal content; emissions may cause pollution.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Smog:
The brownish haze that pollutes the air, making it difficult for some people to breathe; its primary component is ozone.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Sterilize:
To kill germs to prevent infections.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Subsistence Fishing/Hunting:
A system of hunting or fishing that provides all or almost all the goods required by the family, usually without any significant surplus for sale.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
sulfur dioxide:
A colorless, water-soluble, acidic gas that is produced from the combustion of fossil fuels.

Source: Dictionary of Environmental Health
Synthetic:
Of, relating to, or produced by chemical or biochemical synthesis; especially: produced artificially.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

T

Tailings:
Residue separated in the preparation of various products (such as grain or ores)—usually used in plural.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Tallow:
The white, nearly tasteless solid-rendered fat of cattle and sheep used chiefly in soap, candles, and lubricants.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Textiles:
Woven or knit fabric; a fiber or yarn used in making cloth.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Thyroid Gland:
An organ located beneath the larynx (voice box) that makes hormones that regulate growth, development and metabolism.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Tidal Flats:
Commonly muddy or marshy land that is covered and uncovered by the rise and fall of tides.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Tinnitus:
A ringing in one or both ears that may be soft or loud, high pitched or low pitched; it may cause trouble hearing, working, or sleeping.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Toxicogenomics:
a field of science that deals with the collection, interpretation, and storage of information about gene and protein activity within particular cell or tissue of an organism in response to toxic substances.

Source: Wikipedia
toxicology:
The study of how natural or synthetic poisons cause undesirable effects in living organisms.

Source: Illustrated Dictionary and Resource Directory of Environmental and Occupational Health

U

Un-ventilated:
The circulation of air through a building in order to expel noxious air and admit clean, fresh air.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

V

Vagrants:
A person who has no established home and wanders from place to place without lawful or visible means of support.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Ventilation:
The circulation of air through a building in order to expel noxious air and admit clean, fresh air.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
Vertigo:
A feeling of dizziness or lightheadedness, or that the room is spinning.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

W

West Nile Virus:
An infectious disease spread by the bite of an infected mosquito.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

Y

Yellow Fever:
A viral infection spread by mosquitoes.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine

Z

Zika Virus:
A virus that is spread mostly by mosquitoes; a pregnant mother can pass it to her baby during pregnancy or around the time of birth; it can spread through sexual contact.

Source: U.S. National Library of Medicine
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