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Your Environment. Your Health.

Advancing Environmental Justice

Multiracial group of people standing in clean environment
EJ is defined by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency as 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.

Researchers funded by the NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) have been in the spotlight recently for their work on environmental justice (EJ). From being selected for prestigious committees to supporting webinar series, SRP grantees and their partners are addressing the challenges and complexities of EJ.

“The environment is a central determinant of human health and well-being,” says SRP Director Bill Suk, Ph.D. “The concept of EJ recognizes that all people have the right to live, work, learn, and play in a healthy environment.”

Leaders in Environmental Justice

Two members of the SRP network were selected for the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council: Rachel Morello-Frosch, Ph.D., University of California, Berkeley, and Juan Parras, community partner with Texas A&M University (TAMU). Members were selected based on their commitment to confronting longstanding environmental injustices and to ensuring that historically marginalized and polluted communities have greater input on federal policies and decisions.

Parras headshot
Parras has promoted environmental justice for over 40 years, striving to empower marginalized communities. (Photo courtesy of t.e.j.a.s.)

Juan Parras is the founder and executive director of Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services (t.e.j.a.s.). Parras collaborates with the TAMU SRP Center to conduct studies and obtain scientific evidence to inform health-protective actions for the community.

Rachel Morello-Frosch, Ph.D., leader of the Community Engagement Core - Water Equity Science Shop at UC Berkeley has, for over 20 years, focused on climate change, air pollution, and psychosocial stress. Currently, Morello-Frosch studies drinking water access and quality in California communities.

As part of the advisory council, Parras and Morello-Frosch will provide advice and recommendations to the Chair of the Council on Environmental Quality and the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council on how to address current and historic environmental injustices.

This historic White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council will ensure that our administration's work is informed by the insights, expertise, and lived experience of environmental justice leaders from across the nation,” said Vice President Kamala Harris in a press release from The White House.

Environmental Justice Lectures

Researchers at the UC Berkeley SRP Center, including Morello-Frosch, organized a seminar series as a component of a new class called "Riskscapes and Environmental Justice: Implications for Advancing Scientific Methods and Policy-making." The series included dialogue about science, policy, social equity, and racial justice. It featured speakers from diverse academic disciplines and community groups working on different aspects of equity and justice, such as water quality, food security, community engagement, and policy.

Henry headshot
In her presentation, Henry highlighted several national initiatives related to environmental justice, including the new White House Council, EJ provisions under climate change legislation, and ongoing environmental health disparity activities at NIEHS. (Photo courtesy of NIEHS)

The biennial John P. Wyatt, M.D., Environment & Health Symposium was held on Earth Day, April 22, 2021, by the University of Kentucky SRP Center. The event featured experts in environmental sciences and human health, including SRP Health Scientist Administrator Heather Henry, Ph.D., who discussed strategies of SRP and NIEHS grantees to address environmental health disparities at the national, regional, and local levels.

“NIEHS-funded activities across the nation integrate diverse fields to spur advancements and address environmental justice,” said Henry. "Basic and applied science driven by data, community-based interventions, and capacity building efforts all align with the broader NIEHS goal for addressing health disparities."

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