By Mark A. Mitchell, MD, MPH, Principal, Mitchell Environmental Health Associates
• “The fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations and policies.” – U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
• Fair Treatment means that no group of people, including racial, ethnic, or socioeconomic group should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or the execution of federal, state, local, and tribal programs and policies.”
• Environmental Justice is about stopping environmental injustice and changing environmental policy to reduce negative health effects.
Why Environmental Justice is So Important:
1. More environmental hazards are located in low-income and Black and Latino neighborhoods than in other U.S. neighborhoods.
2. The excess location of environmental hazards in these neighborhoods contribute to racial and ethnic health disparities.
3. Environmental racism is a form of institutional (or societal) racism.
4. Low-income communities and communities of color are dumping grounds for pollution.
5. Undesirable land use is disproportionately located in these communities.
6. “Toxic Waste and Race in the United States”, which was the first national study on this subject, reported that race was the most significant factor associated with the location of hazardous waste facilities.
7. In 2007, “Toxic Waste and Race at Twenty” reported that race is still a major factor in locating waste facilities.
8. Using the state of Connecticut as an example, following are health effects associated with the environment:
– The incidence of Asthma is 50% higher in urban schools than in rural schools.
– Asthma deaths are 6 times higher in African American males 15 to 24 years of age than in white males in the same age range.
– 84% of lead poisoned children are African American or Latino.
– Other health disparities associated with the environment include cancer – especially lung cancer, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), depression, learning disabilities, low birth weight, sudden cardiac death, and stroke.
9. Low-income individuals and people of color are most impacted by climate change events such as floods, fires, hurricanes and tornadoes, and are also least able to survive them.
10. Some toxic cosmetic products are unknowingly more frequently in women of color such as hair relaxers that contain formaldehyde, a known carcinogen (cancer causing substance and skin lighteners that contain mercury, hydroquinone and other high hazard ingredients.
11. Although the Toxic Substances Control Act was passed 35 years ago, of the 84,000 chemicals used in commerce that were affected, 62,000 were “grandfathered” in.Further, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has only been able to require health and safety information for 200 chemicals, has only restricted 5 chemicals, and has not even been able to ban asbestos, although its negative health effects are well documented.
12. issues linked to chemical policy, to be discussed in more detail in my next blog post, include:
– Land and Solid Waste Pollution – such as landfills and dumps, and PCB’s in soil;
– Air Toxins – such as from trash, sewage and some power plants;
– Water Contamination – such as from pharmaceutical contamination and mercury in
– Local Business Toxins – such as from dry cleaners, nail salons, and dry cleaners;
– Industrial Pollution – such as from refineries, plastics and rubber factories; and
– Consumer Product Exposures – such as lead containing dishes and toys.
Environmental Justice Related Health Improvement Activities Underway:
- A small number of US Senators and House members are seeking to strengthen the the current Environmental Protection bill regarding protection of vulnerable populations, and inclusion of a “Hotspots” provision.
- There is a “Safer Chemicals, Healthy Families Campaign”, which individuals can join.
- The National Medical Association has an Environmental Health Task Force which is co-chaired by Dr. Jewel Crawford, which is focusing on physician education and advocacy.
Health Power Note:
We are pleased to Introduce Dr. Mark Mitchell, Health Power’s Environmental Health Editor, who will be informing our users and visitors about the link between environmental health, and overall health. He will also be providing tips on: (a) what individuals can do to decrease their risk of damage from hazardous products and environmental conditions, and (b) what groups can do to promote and facilitate environmental justice.
Stay tuned for much more from Dr. Mitchell on Environmental Justice and Environmental Health because, as you can see from the discussion above, although people of color bear a much greater health burden related to certain environmental hazards, many environmental hazards also affect the nation as a whole.
Feel free to leave your comments to this blog post, as they are important to us, and will also be of interest to others in our blog community.
Remember: Knowledge + Action = Power! ®
Wishing you Physical, Mental and Spiritual Health, Norma J. Goodwin, M.D., Founder and President, Health Power, firstname.lastname@example.org