Date: March 5, 1999
Contacts: Dan Quinn, Media Relations Officer
Kristen Nye, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <email@example.com>EMBARGOED: NOT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE BEFORE 10 A.M. EST FRIDAY, MARCH 5Publication AnnouncementBetter Information Needed to Guide Efforts in Addressing Environmental Justice
Concerns have grown in recent years that industrial plants, waste facilities, and other potential polluters are more likely to be sited in poorer communities, and that pollutants from these facilities are making people sick. In response, a growing movement known as "environmental justice" has sought to ensure that no particular part of the population is disproportionately burdened by the negative effects of pollution. And researchers now are beginning to examine how these environmental hazards may affect human health.
However, research so far has not generally been able to tie the health problems of minority and poor communities to environmental stressors such as chemicals, noise, or air pollutants, according to a new report from a committee of the Institute of Medicine. To fill this gap in the knowledge base, the report calls for more research that ultimately could help policy-makers weigh the possible environmental risks of a facility against the positive benefits -- like jobs and tax revenue -- that it might provide to local citizens.
Based on information gathered in site visits to Arizona, Illinois, Louisiana, Texas, and Washington, as well as a review of the scientific literature, the committee concluded that there are identifiable communities of concern that are exposed to higher levels of pollutants than others, and are not well-equipped to deal with them because of a limited involvement in the political process. In addition, residents of these communities may not be aware of many of their exposures and may be more vulnerable to health problems because of poor nutrition, inadequate health care, and other factors.
To help improve the level of information available to all parties, the report recommends actions in four key areas -- public health, research, education, and health policy.
>Public health officials should rigorously apply the principles of risk assessment to identify the sources of potential problems; design and implement interventions to prevent them; and evaluate the effectiveness of those interventions in improving health. Federal, state, and local public health agencies need to work together more closely to collect and coordinate information on environmental health concerns and link it to affected populations and communities.
>Researchers should acknowledge that environmental justice is a legitimate field of study and devote appropriate resources to it. They need to focus on four principles -- improving the science base, trying to collect data that is relevant to policy-makers, involving the concerned communities in their work, and communicating their findings to all stakeholders.
>Educators should work to improve understanding of environmental justice issues among community residents and health professionals, including medical, nursing, and public health practitioners. They also should make efforts to increase the number of health professionals specializing in environmental and occupational medicine.
>Policy-makers should take environmental justice concerns seriously, even if the field lacks a rigorous science base. They should be attentive to potential hazards and meticulous about involving the affected communities in the decision-making process.
The study was sponsored by the National Institutes of Health, the U.S. Department of Energy, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. A committee roster follows. The Institute of Medicine is a private, non-profit organization that provides health policy advice under a congressional charter granted to the National Academy of Sciences.
Read the full text of Toward Environmental Justice: Research, Education, and Health Policy Needs
for free on the Web, as well as more than 1,800 other publications from the National Academies. Printed copies are available for purchase from the National Academy Press
Web site or at the mailing address in the letterhead; tel. (202) 334-3313 or 1-800-624-6242. Reporters may obtain a pre-publication copy from the Office of News and Public Information at the letterhead address (contacts listed above).
James R. Gavin III, M.D., Ph.D.(*) (committee co-chair)Senior Scientific OfficerHoward Hughes Medical InstituteChevy Chase, Md.Donald R. Mattison, M.D. (committee co-chair)Medical DirectorMarch of Dimes Birth Defect FoundationWhite Plains, N.Y.Regina Austin, J.D. William A. Schnader Professor of LawUniversity of Pennsylvania Law SchoolPhiladelphiaDavid R. Baines, M.D.Family Practice PhysicianSt. Maries Family Medicine ClinicSt. Maries, IdahoBaruch Fischhoff, M.A., Ph.D.(*) Professor of Social and Decision Sciences, andProfessor of Engineering and Public PolicyCarnegie Mellon UniversityPittsburghGeorge Friedman-Jiménez, M.D., Ph.D.DirectorOccupational and Environmental Health ClinicBellevue HospitalNew York UniversityNew York CityBernard D. Goldstein, M.D.(*)DirectorEnvironmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, andProfessor and ChairmanDepartment of Environmental and Community MedicineRobert Wood Johnson Medical SchoolPiscataway, N.J.James G. Haughton, M.D., M.P.H.(*)Medical DirectorPublic Health Programs and ServicesLos Angeles County Department of Health ServicesSandral Hullett, M.D., M.P.H.(*) Executive DirectorWest Alabama Health Services Inc.EutawLovell A. Jones, M.S., Ph.D. Director, Experimental Gynecology-EndocrinologyDepartment of Gyneologic-OncologyM.D. Anderson Cancer CenterUniversity of TexasHoustonCharles LeeDirector of Environmental JusticeUnited Church of ChristCommission for Racial JusticeNew York CityRoger O. McClellan, D.V.M.(*)PresidentChemical Industry Institute of ToxicologyResearch Triangle Park, N.C.Mary Ann Smith, Ph.D. Assistant ProfessorSchool of Public HealthUniversity of TexasHoustonWalter J. Wadlington, LL.B.(*)James Madison Professor of LawUniversity of Virginia School of Law, andProfessor of Legal MedicineUniversity of Virginia School of MedicineCharlottesvilleINSTITUTE STAFFAndrew Pope, Ph.D.Study Director_________________________________________(*) Member, Institute of Medicine
INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE
Division of Health Sciences Policy
Committee on Environmental Justice