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News from the National Academies
Date: March 5, 1999
Contacts: Dan Quinn, Media Relations Officer
Kristen Nye, Media Relations Assistant
(202) 334-2138; e-mail <news@nas.edu>


EMBARGOED: NOT FOR PUBLIC RELEASE BEFORE 10 A.M. EST FRIDAY, MARCH 5


Publication Announcement

Better 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).

INSTITUTE OF MEDICINE
Division of Health Sciences Policy

Committee on Environmental Justice


James R. Gavin III, M.D., Ph.D.(*) (committee co-chair)
Senior Scientific Officer
Howard Hughes Medical Institute
Chevy Chase, Md.

Donald R. Mattison, M.D. (committee co-chair)
Medical Director
March of Dimes Birth Defect Foundation
White Plains, N.Y.

Regina Austin, J.D.
William A. Schnader Professor of Law
University of Pennsylvania Law School
Philadelphia

David R. Baines, M.D.
Family Practice Physician
St. Maries Family Medicine Clinic
St. Maries, Idaho

Baruch Fischhoff, M.A., Ph.D.(*)
Professor of Social and Decision Sciences, and
Professor of Engineering and Public Policy
Carnegie Mellon University
Pittsburgh

George Friedman-Jiménez, M.D., Ph.D.
Director
Occupational and Environmental Health Clinic
Bellevue Hospital
New York University
New York City

Bernard D. Goldstein, M.D.(*)
Director
Environmental and Occupational Health Sciences Institute, and
Professor and Chairman
Department of Environmental and Community Medicine
Robert Wood Johnson Medical School
Piscataway, N.J.

James G. Haughton, M.D., M.P.H.(*)
Medical Director
Public Health Programs and Services
Los Angeles County Department of Health Services

Sandral Hullett, M.D., M.P.H.(*)
Executive Director
West Alabama Health Services Inc.
Eutaw

Lovell A. Jones, M.S., Ph.D.
Director, Experimental Gynecology-Endocrinology
Department of Gyneologic-Oncology
M.D. Anderson Cancer Center
University of Texas
Houston

Charles Lee
Director of Environmental Justice
United Church of Christ
Commission for Racial Justice
New York City

Roger O. McClellan, D.V.M.(*)
President
Chemical Industry Institute of Toxicology
Research Triangle Park, N.C.

Mary Ann Smith, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor
School of Public Health
University of Texas
Houston

Walter J. Wadlington, LL.B.(*)
James Madison Professor of Law
University of Virginia School of Law, and
Professor of Legal Medicine
University of Virginia School of Medicine
Charlottesville

INSTITUTE STAFF

Andrew Pope, Ph.D.
Study Director

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(*) Member, Institute of Medicine