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Spotlight on Portugal
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Portuguese Society of Environmental Health - SPSA

The Portuguese Society of Environmental Health (SPSA - Sociedade Portuguesa de Saúde Ambiental) was founded in March 2007 from the desire of professionals interested in health and environment to set  a basis for the promotion of environmental health in Portugal. Currently, it has about 75 members (mainly Environmental Health Officers and Public Health Doctors) and undertakes activities such as regulatory consultation, conferences and seminars.

SPSA is a non-profit and non-governmental organization and does not represent any professional body. Our main efforts focus on knowledge production and dissemination, as well as the scientific development of environmental health.

SPSA has sought to establish ties with similar associations (Spain, Latin America and Portuguese-speaking African countries) and was accepted in 2009 as a full member of IFEH – International Federation of Environmental Health.

The primary purposes and objectives of the SPSA are to:

  • Provide a knowledge exchange forum for professionals from diverse backgrounds in the field of environmental health;
  • Promote, at a national level, the advancement of learning, study and discussion of problems relating to environmental health, particularly in the areas of management, planning, development, administration, science, technology, research and education;
  • Encourage, support and cooperate with public and private entities who share an interest in setting up structures and appropriate means to solve existing problems within environmental health;
  • Support and participate in actions to disseminate the basic concepts of policy development for the management of environmental health;
  • Collaborate with organizations and similar associations to raise Portuguese participation in international programs in the field of environmental health.

Environmental Health in Portugal

The initial development of environmental health in the country began in the early twentieth century, with the constitution of a public health professional body. The predominant professionals were public health doctors, sanitary engineers and sanitary officers and their main duties were public nuisance inspections and improvement of basic sanitation. These professionals were trained in medical schools and health institutes and their work was based mainly at a local level within the Health Services.

The training of medical and engineering specialization has not changed much over the years as opposed to the technical development of other professionals, particularly Environmental Health Officers (EHO).

EHO initial training (Sanitary Technicians) was conducted at the Institute of Health Dr. Ricardo Jorge and could last up to two years (in the 70’s and 80’s).  Running of the courses was irregular and based on the needs of these professionals in the country.

The growing training requirements led to the creation in 1990 of the Environmental Health course, a 3-year Bachelor's degree (academic education level), on national Health Technologies High Schools.

Currently the course is held in four public colleges and one private on a 4-year BSc degree - Bologna process .

The EHO is a health professional with a well defined career certified by the Ministry of Health, who also issue the professional licenses. Although the health services at local level remain the largest employers, the range of job opportunities has been extended to other public departments, like councils, Ministry of Environment, Work Safety Agency and also to private companies.

Currently, with the basic sanitary problems being solved, environmental health focuses more on the surveillance and study of environmental factors on the population’s health. Emerging risks such as radiation, pesticides and epidemiological studies have entered the agenda of these professionals.

With the integration of Portugal into the European Union, new regulations were introduced into Portuguese law,  bringing a greater demand on environmental health enforcement and regulatory compliance.

Portuguese public agencies in the Environmental Health field

  • Ministry of Health - overall responsibility for environmental health;
  • Ministry of Environment - overall responsibility for environmental protection and natural resources;
  • ASAE – overall responsibility for food control (police-type agency);
  • ACT – overall responsibility for safety at work;
  • National Institute of Health Dr. Ricardo Jorge – Health research institute and national reference laboratory;
  • Town Councils (municipalities) – Local administrative entity with responsibility in water supply, waste management, licensing of facilities, etc).


Environmental Health practitioners typical activities

Common duties will vary according to whether the work is in the public service or in a private company, but typical activities may include:

  • Surveillance of drinking water;
  • Surveillance of recreational waters at beaches, swimming-pools and Spas;
  • Licensing and inspection of all components of the food chain;
  • Licensing and inspection of specific facilities (e.g. schools, elderly centers, hotels, private healthcare);
  • Inspection of housing  conditions;
  • Inspection of workplaces with  regard to occupational health and safety compliance;
  • Advising on planning and licensing applications;
  • Vector control;
  • Monitoring of noise, air, soil, and water pollution;
  • Environmental health epidemiological studies;
  • Training of food handlers;
  • Education for children’s awareness (e.g. environmental protection).


Members’ contacts

Carlos Lourenço (General Assembly President)
(+351) 96 918 77 42

Eduardo Figueiredo (International Relations)
(+351) 96 513 49 26

Rogério Nunes (Executive Director)
(+351) 96 613 70 52