Monday, November 8, 2010

A welcoming climate

The good news: Environmental justice is getting more attention these days among a range of federal health agencies. The bad news: Research demonstrates that adverse health impacts from climate change, exposures to toxic agents and occupational injuries all have disproportionate impacts on vulnerable populations and marginalized communities and, unfortunately, there’s no easy fix.

It’s not all doom and gloom, though. Monday morning’s special session on "Federal Perspectives on Social Justice, Climate Change and Environmental Health" brought together leaders from a variety of national agencies to discuss what federal policy-makers are doing to address such issues and how federal agencies and national partners are working together. In the words of Linda Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, we “use science to promote environmental and climate justice.”

Research shows that those who suffer most from the adverse health impacts of climate change are those least responsible for contributing to it. In fact, harmful amounts of ground-level ozone and air pollution are already having a disproportionate impact on communities of color and other disadvantaged groups.

The National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities is making efforts to address determinants of health via studies on health outcomes among blacks and whites. The findings show that the built environment, housing, poverty and nutrition all factor into social inequities and health disparities. The biggest finding over a range of research efforts led by the center?: The smaller the income gap, the lower the level of health disparities.

Although there is no immediate or obvious policy fix, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency is working to integrate environmental justice into its decision-making and — most importantly — into its rule making. EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice is charged with paving the way for integrating environmental justice into the regulatory process.

Isn't it nice to see issues of social justice make it all the way to the top?

Check out more on EPA's partnership for sustainable communities here.

— M.S.

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