Environmental Health
Food sanitation, drinking-water treatment, and wastewater disposal have been mainstays of public health since the earliest times. As health departments were given the added responsibility of guarding against toxins in the broader environment, these regulatory functions were grouped into environmental health. Most public health orders are directed at environmental health problems. Because they affect property, not persons, they do not pose the difficult issues of personal freedom that arise with the rarer communicable disease control orders.
Environmental health regulations pose two central legal questions: whether the government owes compensation to the owners of regulated property, and under what circumstances health officers can enter private premises to look for public health law violations. Both questions arise from the U.S. Constitution, which requires that property owners be paid a fair price for property taken for public purposes and prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures. The difficult problem is deciding if the government has searched the property unreasonably or has taken the value of the property for which the owner must be compensated.