Science & Technology in Action

13th Edition

Environment and Wellbeing


The environment in which we live can influence our health and wellbeing, both positively and negatively. “We benefit much more from clean air, pure water, good food and exercise and strong communities than we do from hospitals, medicines and clinics.”
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Lesson excerpt

What is meant by ‘wellbeing’

Wellbeing isn’t just the absence of illness. It refers to a person’s physical and mental health, general sense of security, happiness and freedom from undue emotional or social stress. It might be described as a good feeling about yourself and your life. The environment in which we live can infl uence our health and wellbeing, both positively and negatively. In Ireland we are fortunate to live in an environment that is generally very good. This is brought home to us forcefully when we see on our TVs the conditions in which many people in some parts of the world are struggling just to survive. Although the environmental issues that we need to address are often local, there are also national and global issues that have a negative effect on our health and wellbeing. (See

Environmental factors

The following are considered to be core environmental needs for health and wellbeing: • clean air (free of smoke, bad odours etc.) • clean water • safe food • safe shelter • stable environment • access to clean and protected amenity. Wellbeing has always ultimately depended on a healthy environment. In the face of finite resources and a growing population, maintaining and achieving wellbeing for all remains a challenge. Environmental hazards – biological, chemical and radiological – can affect health directly through the contamination of water, air, soil and food. Some of these hazards are associated with how we live and the choices we make. Our consumption patterns should promote sustainable living for ourselves and our communities and avoid stress to the environment.

Air quality

In Ireland we are fortunate to have better air quality than most countries in Europe, but some key challenges remain. The EPA’s latest report on air quality shows that burning of solid fuel is the biggest threat to good air quality in Ireland, followed by emissions from vehicle exhausts. Despite monitored air quality being within EU limit values we face challenges in maintaining this position. And, at a number of locations, air quality failed to meet the World Health Organisation (WHO) guideline values for a range of pollutants including fine particulate matter, which poses risks to people’s health. The levels of particulate matter in our air is of growing concern, especially during the winter months when people’s fuel choices can directly impact on our air quality and on our health, particularly in small towns and villages. The predominant source of fine particulate matter is from the burning of solid fuel. Also, in urban areas, we face potential exceedances of nitrogen dioxide limit values unless we reduce our dependence on the private motor car. (,63174,en.html) Air pollution has a significant effect on mortality rates.

True or False?

  1. Wellness means how wealthy you are. false
  2. Wellness is affected by many aspects of the environment. true
  3. Bad smells can have negative effect on wellness. true
  4. Health and wellness are affected only by local factors. false
  5. What we do as individuals does not affect the wellness of others. false
  6. The Earth’s fossil fuel reserves will last for thousands of years. false
  7. Carbon dioxide is produced when fossil fuels are burned. true
  8. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas. true
  9. Radon only comes from nuclear reactors. false
  10. Private water supplies are generally inferior to public supplies. true
  11. All bathing areas in Ireland are completely safe. false
  12. Rivers, canals, lakes etc. are known as “blue spaces”. true

Glossary of terms

Anaerobic digestion
digestion of organic matter by anaerobic bacteria - those that do not use oxygen for respiration
the number and variety of organisms found within a specified geographic region
Blue spaces
recreational open space with water -coast, lake, river etc.
conversion of organic waste into a form that is suitable for growing of plants; it involves lightly compacting the material and adding organisms that can break down the material aerobically over a period of time
Decay product
a product (element) resulting from radioactive decay
removal of infection; killing possible causes of infection
relating to faeces
Fossil fuels
coal, oil or natural gas that result from the fossilisation of ancient plants or animals
of or relating to the internal heat of the earth
Global warming
a gradual warming of the Earth's atmosphere, caused by the accumulation of gases from the burning of fossil fuels
Green spaces
green' recreational space e.g. parks, mountains, woods etc.
Greenhouse gases
the gases that contribute to the greenhouse effect including carbon dioxide, methane, nitrous oxide, ozone and water vapour
Particulate matter
composed of small (solid) particles
a microorganism that is capable of causing disease in a specific host
emitting radiation that is ionising, i.e. either subatomic particles or electromagnetic waves whose energy is greater than that of visible light (UV, X-ray, gamma rays)
relating to radiation
a gaseous element with atomic number 86; there are several isotopes of radon all of which are radioactive; its most stable isotope (Radon-222) has a half life of 3.8 days
Relatively Quiet Zones
areas with little or no environmental noise such as traffic or heavy industry
energy derived from resources that are self-sustaining for all practical purposes cannot be depleted
separation of various types (of waste)
a metal, some of its isotopes useful for the production of energy by fission