Environmental Health as a Social Justice Issue
Environmental health has become a leading public health issue because it affects all people. On December 1, 2021, Tri-C’s Stand for Racial Justice and Mandel center co-hosted a virtual event “The Color of Environmental Health: The Effects of Environmental Justice on Human Well-Being” to discuss environmental health, how it has become a social justice issue, and the work that is done to make communities healthy and safe. To have an effective public health system, more people must learn what environmental health is and how they can get involved to combat the effects in the community they live in, learn, work, and visit.
“Environmental health is the branch of public health that fosters healthy and safe communities and promotes human health and well-being by focusing on the relationship between people and their environment”, according to the American Public Health Association.
Environmental health care professionals are instrumental in identifying hazardous agents and chemicals in our air, water, soil, food, homes, and other settings that may adversely affect human health. These professionals advocate for the establishment and enforcement of laws intended to prevent, diminish, and eliminate hazardous agents in communities. Many of them work at not-for-profit organizations which partner with governments and for-profit entities to establish educational programs and acquire the funding that is used to take action needed to address existing environmental health issues.
The December 1, the virtual event was moderated by Derrick L. Williams, Ph.D., professor of communication studies at the Metro Campus, and included three panelists Kim Foreman the executive director of Environmental Health Watch, Jesus Sanchez a recreational specialist with Cleveland Metroparks Youth Outdoors Program, and Aneisha Young a student at the Metro Campus.
Kim Forman discussed the environmental challenges that exist such as lead poisoning from paint and dust indoors and outdoors in soil and asthma from air pollution. “These challenges have resulted in a lack of trees and made it more difficult to access parks and nature,” said Kim Foreman. “These and other issues impact the physical and mental health of people in Cleveland and the surrounding area due to the challenges of these day-to-day problems needing to be handled.”
Kim Forman also discussed how environmental health has become a social justice issue due to the “history of redlining and low rates of homeownership in redlined areas; racist policies, resources, and power dynamics; lack of services in poor communities; lack of upkeep of parks, roads, and other infrastructure.”
Students can learn more about local environmental health issues, receive training and get involved in their communities by visiting the website of Environmental Health Watch. This organization provides guidance and assistance on making homes healthy; education and training on how to develop an action plan to eliminate disparities; promote sustainable communities; have a public-private partnership with Lead Safe Cleveland Coalition to address lead poisoning in the community; and more.
Students can get involved in environmental health by researching issues that are important to them, attending local meetings, and finding an organization to get involved with. The panelist Aneisha Young is involved in environmental health by “volunteering with her church” and was selected as a Mandel Scholar for her work on environmental justice which was featured as part of 2021 Earth Week.
Jesus Sanchez discussed how “youth can get outside and experience the wonder of nature and develop skills in outdoor recreations, gain a life-long appreciation and understanding of the importance of parks and nature. Youth can also learn valuable life skills in making decisions, developing interests, communicating thoughts and feelings, making healthy lifestyle choices, and fulfilling responsibilities to others in their group and community.” Students can visit the Cleveland Metro Parks website for more information.