Addressing Racism As a Public Health Issue Through the Lens of Environmental Health Disparities and Environmental Justice: From Problems to Solutions
- Session 1: Environmental Health Disparities: Impact of Environmental Injustices and Systemic Racism (Past, Present, Future)
- Session 2: A Conversation With Our Community Leaders: EJ, Science, and Policy (Community Voices from NC)
- Session 3: Community-engaged Research: Building Authentic Partnerships in Disproportionately Impacted Communities
- Session 3 (continued): Community-engaged Research: Building Authentic Partnerships in Disproportionately Impacted Communities
Session 1: Environmental Health Disparities: Impact of Environmental Injustices and Systemic Racism (Past, Present, Future)
Embodying Place & The People’s Health: Critical Science for Health Justice – An Ecosocial Proposal
Nancy Krieger, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, Harvard University
In my presentation I will offer critical reflections on what it means to embody place, guided by the ecosocial premise that embodied histories are expressed as health inequities. At issue is how “place” must be jointly conceptualized and analyzed spatially, socially, and dynamically, recognizing that links between place and population health involve social and biophysical pathways shaped by power relations. After briefly describing key features of the ecosocial theory of disease distribution, I will demonstrate its application to analyses of place and health inequities. The range of empirical examples I will present include: (1) COVID-19 inequities in relation to diverse county and census tract social metrics; (2) Jim Crow, infant mortality rates, and breast cancer estrogen receptor status; (3) historical redlining and cancer stage at diagnosis; and (4) fracking and risk of sexually transmitted infectious diseases. As these examples underscore, a key takeaway is that it is not enough to say that “place matters” – instead, to guide action for health equity, it is vital to identify the structural drivers, past and present, of why this is the case. The implication is that conduct of critical science requires explicitly integrating the myriad levels and timescales of embodiment, from structural policies and structural injustice to submolecular levels, across historical generations, so as to reveal not only accountability and agency for current inequities but also pathways that can promote embodying dignity in a context of thriving, equitable, and sustainable places and societies.
Confronting Environmental Racism: Why Health Equity Matters
Robert Bullard, Barbara Jordan-Mickey Leland School of Public Affairs, Texas Southern University (TSU)
America is segregated, and so is pollution. Historically, people of color communities in the United States have borne a disproportionate burden of pollution created by others, including pollution from highway traffic, landfills, garbage dumps, incinerators, refineries, chemical plants and a host of other polluting facilities. Racist facility siting practices followed the “path of least resistance” allowing communities of color to become environmental “sacrifice zones” and the “dumping grounds” for all kinds of health-threatening operations. Racism influences local land use, enforcement of environmental regulations, and where people of color live, work, play and learn. The roots of institutional racism are deep and have been difficult to eliminate. Environmental racism combines with public policies, finance, and planning to provide benefits for whites while shifting costs and externalities to people of color. Although people of color have contributed least to the climate crisis, climate-impacts fall disproportionately on vulnerable communities (many of whom were victims of racist redlining), including impacts on weather (heat waves, extreme weather events such as rain, hurricane, tornado, flooding, sea-level rise, droughts, increase in ground-level ozone, airborne allergens, and other pollutants) and impacts on public health (heat stress, injuries, drowning, vector, food, and water-borne diseases, water and soil salinization, ecosystem disruption, food and water shortages, migration and displacement, respiratory disease exacerbation, COPD, asthma, bronchitis, mental health). It is unlikely the nation can achieve health equity, environmental and climate justice without addressing the underlying condition of systemic racism.
Session 2: A Conversation With Our Community Leaders: EJ, Science, and Policy (Community Voices from NC)
Working in Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) Communities
Crystal Cavalier-Keck and Jason Keck, 7 Directions of Service
Indigenous populations in North Carolina have experienced social, economic, and political disadvantages through colonialism. The policies implemented to assimilate indigenous peoples have dissolved cultural continuity and unfavorably shaped their health outcomes. As a result, indigenous North Carolinians face health inequities, such as chronic illness, food insecurity, and mental health crises.
Addressing Environmental Racism As a Public Health Issue Through Health Disparities and Environmental Justice: A History of Environmental Racism in North Carolina
Naeema Muhammad, North Carolina Environmental Justice Network (NCEJN)
Environmental Justice (EJ), as defined by the U.S. Department of Energy, states that EJ is 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. Fair treatment means that no population bears a disproportionate share of negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, municipal, and commercial operations or from the execution of federal, state, and local laws; regulations; and policies. In this presentation I will define EJ and the term landfill and how the designation of a landfill site in an African American community in Warren County, North Carolina in 1982 sparked a movement that fueled and issued in the concepts of environmental racism and environmental justice nationally. I will discuss the importance of community organizing and how it can impact policy related to solid waste management in North Carolina. I will also describe, first-hand, the devastation of concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs) and industrial feeding organizations (IFOs) on the environment and their associated negative impacts on the physical and mental health of people of color and low wealth in Eastern North Carolina. I will explore the myth of biogas as a solution to CAFOs and stress how important it is to take action and get involved to make a difference in promoting EJ and addressing environmental racism.
Omega Wilson, Brenda Wilson, and Ayo Wilson, WERA
WERA recently established a Clean Energy and Climate Justice (CECJ) initiative that supports numerous federal government agency and local, state, and national grassroots efforts. In North Carolina, the Mebane area mega industrial and distribution centers and 119-bypass interstate highway corridor construction present specific challenges that can be addressed to implement Clean Energy and Climate Justice initiative recommendations. Construction on the 119-bypass project began a few years ago after a 16-year moratorium resulting from a 1999 administrative complaint filed by WERA to the U.S. Department of Justice. Hundreds of acres of farmland and forests were cleared, releasing sequestered carbon for the construction of these mega industrial and distribution centers that overburden the infrastructure of the area without implementation of measures to engage in green, equitable energy practices to reduce their carbon footprint. These major construction sites are recognized as among the largest on the east coast and in the nation. A focus on a just transition with green climate practices and trans-local climate resilience with an emphasis on basic human amenities and infrastructure (safe drinking water, sewer lines, affordable housing, paved streets and sidewalks, clean recreational waterways, toxic-free soil, storm water management) is paramount to WERA’s mission of clean energy and climate justice. Efforts include increasing community input in new civil rights laws, environmental justice executive orders, and other legislation at the local, state, and federal levels.
Session 3: Community-engaged Research: Building Authentic Partnerships in Disproportionately Impacted Communities
Safe and Just Cleaners: Organizing Latinx Household Cleaners to Address Disproportionate Workplace Environmental Exposures
Sherry Baron, City University of New York and Deysi Flores, Make the Road New York
Low-wage workers, who are disproportionately immigrant, Latinx and African American, are more likely to be employed in precarious employment where they face job instability and unsafe working conditions. Given this, environmental exposure in the workplace is one important pathway through which structural forms of racism can lead to environmental health inequities. Creating intervention programs focusing on workplace-related exposures provides one potentially modifiable route for addressing environmental injustices. Nonetheless, given the central role of work in survival, especially for many immigrant families, and the high levels of job insecurity low-wage workers experience, engaging workers in research addressing these environmental exposures can be challenging. Collaboration with community-based organizations that focus on worker education, individual worker rights and community-level advocacy campaigns can be one successful approach. We will describe experiences from an academic and community partnership in New York City that targets two highly precarious worker groups: Latinx immigrant household cleaners and construction laborers. Though our collaboration began before the COVID-19 pandemic, the additional intersecting social economic, and environmental stressors posed by the pandemic have underscored the potential opportunities and challenges in addressing environmental health inequities. We will describe our findings from recent research and some of the challenges encountered and approaches used to improve worker awareness about environmental exposures, health inequities and prevention pathways and how this research was leveraged during the pandemic to advocate for greater equity and access to pandemic-related social and economic support.
Anti-racist Community Based Participatory Research and Practice for Environmental Justice
Amy Jo Schulz, University of Michigan School of Public Health and Donele Wilkins, Green Door Initiative
“Environmental racism is racial discrimination in environmental policymaking. It is racial discrimination in the enforcement of regulations and law. It is racial discrimination in the deliberate targeting of communities of color for toxic waste disposal and the siting of polluting industries. It is racial discrimination in the official sanctioning of life-threatening presence of poisons and pollutants in communities of color. And it is racial discrimination in the history of excluding people of color from the mainstream environmental groups, decision making boards, commissions and regulatory bodies.” Reverend Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.
Reverend Benjamin Chavis, Jr. defined environmental racism as the expression of racist ideologies in environmental policymaking, regulatory actions, decisions about the siting of toxic wastes and polluting industries, and the exclusion of people of color from regulatory and decision-making bodies. Emerging in response to environmental racism, the environmental justice movement emphasizes leadership from communities disproportionately impacted by environmental toxins. Such leadership is critical to build shared understanding of inequitable environmental burdens and shift power toward equitable environmental decision making. Partnerships between disproportionately affected communities and researchers based in academic institutions hold promise in building evidence to inform action on community-identified environmental priorities. Delivering on that promise requires explicit attention to structural inequities that shape relationships, funding and decision-making power. We examine principles for community based participatory research, environmental justice, and anti-racist practice. Drawing on that analysis, and over 20 years of collaborative research experience, we provide examples of strategies for partnership approaches to address environmental racism and promote environmental justice. We close with recommendations for developing equitable, longstanding and effective partnerships between communities experiencing environmental racism and researchers, including: strengthen existing and support new leadership within environmental justice communities; develop mutually agreed upon processes and principles to assure equitable resource distribution, decision making power and representation; assure that communities know their rights in research; assure that funding and research institutions are accountable to disproportionately impacted communities; engage representatives from environmental justice communities in decisions about funding (e.g., study sections); and address structural racism within funding and research institutions.
Session 3 (continued): Community-engaged Research: Building Authentic Partnerships in Disproportionately Impacted Communities
Community-research Partnerships Assess the Life and Cultural Costs of Cold War Weapons Build up on Sovereign Indigenous Nations Within the U.S.
Johnnye Lewis, University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center, College of Pharmacy and Johnny Naize, Navajo Nation, Blue Gap/Tachee Chapter, Former Speaker - Navajo Nation Tribal Council
Since the mid-1940’s, the rich uranium resources on the Colorado Plateau were heavily mined to support U.S. Cold War weaponization. The sovereign Navajo Nation was an epicenter of mining with a legacy of >500 abandoned uranium mines today, mostly unfenced and unmarked, adjacent to many Navajo communities including Tachee/Blue Gap Chapter. Even with the loss of a generation involved in mining to cancer, the communities never were told of the risks, and no efforts to clean-up or assess the impacts followed the end of the Cold War. In spite of requests to the US federal government and the UN from both communities and the Navajo government since the close of the last mine in 1986, the first research studies were initiated only in 2004, not by government or industry, but through a partnership of researchers and communities. These partnerships continue today to assess the effects of exposures to metal mixtures in the abandoned mine waste, with special focus on the health of future generations. Johnnye Lewis, Ph.D., from the University of New Mexico has led a multidisciplinary research team working in partnership with mining-affected communities since 2000 to understand the environmental, ecological, and human health impacts on current and future generations resulting from exposures; to develop strategies for effective communication between scientists and community members; to conduct research responsive to community questions; and to identify possible solutions to reduce risk. Johnny Naize, former Speaker of Navajo Nation Council, represents his community of Tachee/Blue Gap to describe the impacts of living with this waste; the concerns; the development of the partnership; and the red tape that continues today to delay clean-up actions more than 80 years since mining began.
Community-engaged Research and Collaborations to Achieve Environmental Health and Justice With Arctic Indigenous Communities
Pamela Miller and Viola Pangunnaaq Waghiyi, Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT)
This presentation will describe how community and university research partners have worked to build long-standing relationships and trust in establishing successful collaborations in community-engaged research, training and educational programs, public health interventions, and policy initiatives toward achieving environmental health and justice for the Yupik people of Sivuqaq (St. Lawrence Island). The collaborating partners include the Native Villages of Gambell and Savoonga, Alaska Community Action on Toxics, and several universities. Critical to the long-term success of this project, our research integrates members of the Sivuqaq communities into all aspects of the study design and implementation. We are guided by the Sivuqaq Working Group of elders, youth, and tribal leaders that advises and oversees all stages of the research. We train resident Yupik community members in environmental health research methods, incorporate traditional knowledge into the research design, and conduct educational and outreach activities to protect environmental health. These partnerships work effectively to overcome environmental injustices, environmental racism, and multigenerational harm caused by the military and corporate polluters, as well as the insufficient oversight of regulatory and public health agencies. We will discuss challenges and successes in addressing the underlying environmental racism that has led to health disparities experienced by the Yupik people of Sivuqaq.