HHS Secretary Announces Environmental Justice Strategy

Washington, DC–(ENEWSPF)–March 5, 2012.  Last week, Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, along with other federal agencies, released the Department’s 2012 Environmental Justice Strategy and Implementation Plan, outlining steps that will be taken to protect communities facing greater health and environmental risks. The report recognizes that poor air quality, disproportionate exposure to hazards in the workplace, unhealthy housing conditions (including mold, dampness and pest infestation), and prenatal and childhood exposures to environmental toxicants such as pesticides have been linked to chronic conditions, such as asthma and other respiratory diseases, cardiovascular disease, developmental disabilities and more.

The 2012 HHS EJ Strategy was developed as part of the Department’s reaffirmation of its commitment to environmental justice. HHS defines environmental justice (EJ) 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.” In August 2011, HHS joined 16 other Federal agencies in signing the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on Environmental Justice and Executive Order 12898 which calls for each agency to develop an environmental justice strategy and prepare annual implementation progress reports. HHS published a draft EJ Strategy in October 2011 for public comment. The final 2012 HHS EJ Strategy reflects comments received during the public comment process, as well as comments and concerns expressed in seventeen stakeholder engagements between November 2010 and November 2011.

There are four strategic elements outlined in the strategy: (1) Policy Development and Dissemination, (2) Education and Training, (3) Research and Data Collection, Analysis, and Utilization, and (4) Services. The 2012 HHS EJ Strategy reflects new and ongoing actions that are underway or planned for the near term. The Strategy provides direction for the agency’s efforts to achieve environmental justice as part of its mission by both identifying and addressing disproportionately high and adverse human health and environmental effects on low-income populations and Indian Tribes, and encouraging the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of affected parties with the goal of building healthy, resilient communities and reducing disparities in health and well-being associated with environmental factors.

Within the current landscape of health hazards associated with environmental justice, HHS recognizes that race and poverty continue to be critical determinants of disproportionate exposure to environmental hazards. The prevalence of asthma, for instance, is highest among multi-racial Americans, Hispanics of Puerto Rican descent and non-Hispanic blacks, and is also higher among those living in poverty. Furthermore, the HHS also finds that inadequate and unhealthy housing contributes to infectious and chronic diseases, injuries, and adverse childhood developmental outcomes. Non-Hispanic blacks, Hispanics, and American Indians/Alaska Natives are at least twice as likely to live in inadequate housing as non-Hispanic whites.

HHS also finds that agricultural workers and communities near chemical-intensive industrial farming have unique health issues. Emissions and chemicals used in industrial agriculture are disproportionately located in minority and low-income communities of rural areas. Licensed pesticide applicators are more likely to suffer adverse neurological effects from increased exposure to pesticides in their workplace.

The 2012 HHS EJ Strategy seeks to address these disparities with each of the strategic elements set forth in the plan and to ensure that everyone has access to a clean, safe and healthy environment. Beyond Pesticides encourages individuals to start at home and by decreasing the demand for harmful pesticides and toxic chemicals. Learn more about how to get pesticides out of your home, community, and food at our Safer Choice webpage, and share the link with your friends, family, and neighbors. For more information on how our food system affects farmworkers and rural families around the world, as well as the environment, see our Eating with a Conscience webpage.

Sources: HHS News Release, Beyondpesticides.org