Environmental Health Policy

Public health professionals operate at the boundary between science and policy. This is particularly true in the domain of environmental health. The human health risks posed by environmental exposures are complex, poorly understood, and hotly contested. Societies around the world need leaders who are fluent in both environmental health sciences and in policy analysis.

The Environmental Health Policy Certificate aims to produce such leaders. What differentiates this program from many other environmental policy masters programs is the strong focus in scientific research, in addition to policy training. This combination provides skills needed in environmental health science and policy at the local, national, and global levels.

This unique interdisciplinary perspective will help policy players to evaluate complex, dynamic, and sometimes uncertain bodies of knowledge, and will also aid researchers to carry out and communicate salient, credible research. Recent graduates have gone on to opportunities such as:


  • Environmental Scientist - Drinking Water Enforcement US EPA 
  • Legislative Assistant - U.S. Senate
  • Senior Advisor - Bilateral Environmental Affairs, Government of Canada
  • Project Coordinator - Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ) GmbH (German bilateral aid agency)
  • Community Engagement Specialist - NYC Department of Health
  • Emergency Planning Lead - NYC Department of Health

Additional Study

  • Doctoral student - Yale University
  • Doctoral student - Harvard University
  • Doctoral student - Boston University

Private Sector

  • Analyst - Citibank (focused on health-relevant infrastructure loans)
  • Senior Toxicologist - Gradient (environmental consulting)
  • Senior Director - The Chertoff Group (strategy consulting)
  • Director - Decision Resources Group (management consulting)

Admissions Eligibility

Environmental Health Policy is open to Columbia MPH students in:

The Competencies for this Certificate are as follows:

  1. Describe major environmental risks to public health, including both population level burden of disease, molecular basis, and societal context.
  2. Apply risk assessment approaches as they are used in population-level policy analysis
  3. Critique prevailing approaches to determining the appropriate level of environmental stringency (benefit cost analysis, the precautionary principle, etc.)
  4. Analyze the ways in which science enters – and fails to enter – the policy process
  5. Analyze inequities in environmental risk and policy frameworks to address these inequities.

Learn More

Visit the Certificates Database to learn more about core and credit requirements.

Sample Courses

Frameworks for Environmental Health Policy 

How should society regulate environmental health risks? Some argue that the health of the citizenry is paramount, and that the role of government should be to protect against any possibility of harm. Others back an approach based on a full accounting of the benefits and costs of environmental protection. These debates occur against a backdrop of uncertainty about the health risks posed by specific environmental insults. In spite of all this ambiguity and complexity, policy happens: congress makes laws, regulatory agencies enforce the law, and most polluters comply. Environmental economics, in the form of benefit-cost analysis, provides the prevalent framework for thinking about environmental health policy in the United States. We will explore its conceptual foundations and its applications in the US regulatory context. In our discussions of the sociology of science perspective, we will examine how environmental health scientists interact with the policy process, and think through how such interactions might be improved. The third perspective is decision theory, and in particular choice under uncertainty. We will consider the basic analytics of expected value, and some permutations and applications that are germane to the environmental health policy domain. In addition to these conceptual frameworks, we will analyze and interpret three cases drawn from recent experiences with environmental health regulation in the United States. This course is designed to introduce students in the EHS policy track to core frameworks for thinking about environmental health policy.

Fundamentals of Toxicology

This course explains the toxic effects of chemicals (including drugs and other agents) on living organisms. An overview of the history, principles, mechanisms and regulatory applications of toxicology is provided. Also, the absorption, distribution and excretion of toxins are described. The toxic effects of chemicals (including cancer) on the digestive (liver), respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous, hematopoetic, immune, dermal, urinary, endocrine and reproductive systems and development forms the major portion of the course. Members of chemical classes such as solvents, metals, pesticides, air pollutants (sulfur dioxide, nitrogen oxides and ozone), radiation, plants, fungi, venoms and pharmaceuticals are used as examples. Environmental toxicology form the primary emphasis, but aspects of occupational, food, pharmaceutical and clinical toxicology are also included.

An optional addition hour for credit is provided for those students needing a background in anatomy, histology, chemistry, biochemistry, cell biology, and the normal physiology of the digestive (liver), respiratory, cardiovascular, nervous, hematopoetic, immune, dermal, urinary, endocrine and reproductive systems.

Case Studies in Risk Assessment and Environmental Policy

The goals of the class are to provide an overview of environmental regulation in the United States and to explore the interface between human health assessment and policy in environmental rule-making. Major environmental laws to be covered include the Clean Air Act, the Safe Drinking Water Act and the Food Quality Protection Act. A series of case studies will illustrate the frequently contentious and often dramatic regulatory arena—who the players are and what the process is like. Class projects will include a mock congressional hearing and discussion of new regulations for emerging environmental hazards. The overall purpose of the class is to prepare students for jobs in the regulatory arena either in the U.S. or abroad including in governments, industries or for NGOs.

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