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M Lippmann, B S Cohen and R B Schlesinger (2nd edition; $65.00), 2003. Oxford University Press. ISBN 0-19-508374-1
There are few fields larger than environmental health science and to write an introductory and yet intellectually satisfying book dealing with this area is a challenge—but one that the present authors have met with distinction. This is the second edition of a text that has been a standard course book in the United States for two decades. The revised edition will, no doubt, attract the same popularity as its predecessor—indeed it deserves to be used in Europe as well as in the USA. The authors have set out to describe the major chemical and physical hazards found in the general environment, to describe the risks attendant on exposure to these hazards, and the means by which these risks can be and, in some cases, are controlled.
The authors range widely: across sources and dispersion of chemical contaminants of air, soil, and water; to methods for assessing impacts on health. Noise and radiation (ionising and non-ionising) are considered but biological hazards are deliberately omitted. The chapters dealing with chemicals are detailed, but so are those dealing with the physical hazards: the standard is, in fact, remarkably even for a three-author work. Some sections, for example those dealing with samplers for chemicals and with instrumentation for monitoring environmental concentrations, are detailed and will appeal more to hygienists than to toxicologists or environmental and occupational physicians.
The book contains, as far as I could see, few errors. Mustard gas, contrary to the suggestion on page 161, does have important systemic effects (those dying die of aplastic anaemia and associated infections); to describe the effects of hydrogen sulphide as producing respiratory paralysis is unhelpful and the lens of the eye should not be confused with the vitreous humour! Set against these is the great wealth of useful information provided: many tables of data and helpful diagrams are included. Some information surprised me: I did not know that there were permissible levels of rodent hair and faeces in baking flour in the USA—nor am I sure that I feel more cheerful for knowing this!
Standard setting forms an important part of regulatory control of environmental hazards and risks. The authors give a detailed, if resolutely North American, description of current methods. The description is excellent but the authors fail to take the opportunity to say how they think things should be done—the reader is left thinking that the US EPA’s approach is ideal or, at least, we are not told much of its defects. This is a pity as the authors have unrivalled experience and I would have enjoyed a more critical analysis of current practices. It may be that the authors felt that this would have been out of place in an introductory work—I disagree; students should be exposed to the defects as well as the details of the regulatory process.
The final chapter, dealing with “our environmental future”, should be read widely—and certainly not only by students. Economic valuation of policies is well described; here there is some discussion of shortcomings. The US approach to looking at and beyond the horizon for new hazards is particularly well described and is impressive.
In conclusion, an excellent textbook form which I think I learnt a good deal. I wish I had read the earlier edition at about 15 years of age and recommend that all students and teachers of environmental health science seriously consider this as a key source for their studies and courses.
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