Skip to content

OnAir@AAAR: For Policymakers on Panel, Environmental Justice is High Priority

2010 March 26

At AAAR’s Wednesday panel on air pollution policy and research, members of local, state, and national air quality regulatory bodies had environmental justice on the mind.

According to EPA, environmental justice “will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.”

Throughout the discussion, each of the six panelists tied air pollution research priorities to environmental justice.

Dr. John Balmes, a member of the California Air Resources Board, explained that communities with inadequate access to health care, limited green space, high stress levels, and other factors working against them could be more vulnerable to the effects of air pollution.

“We are serious about protecting these communities from further health effects that could be caused by air pollution,” Balmes said. One way to ensure protection of these highly impacted communities is to incorporate “sociodemographics” into future air pollution research, he explained.

Lydia Wegman, of the office of Air Quality Planning and Standards at EPA, echoed Balmes’ sentiment. She suggested that air pollution scientists approach research on vulnerable communities as “a multidimensional problem.”

Also on the panel was Lenore Lamb, environmental director of the Pala Band of Mission Indians. Though the Pala Band is an autonomous body that can set its own local air quality rules, the tribe must still adhere to federal air quality regulations. Lamb stressed the importance of building sound science, monitoring networks, and data collection in tribal communities that often lack these important building blocks of improved air quality.

Al Armendariz, Regional Administrator for EPA’s Region 6, used part of his time at the microphone to dare an audience full of air pollution scientists to develop “inexpensive, low-cost, self-contained, rain-proof” community air quality monitors to ensure that everyone, even disadvantaged communities, can afford to monitor the air they breathe.

Environmental justice is becoming a priority across all levels of government. Wednesday’s panel was a call to action for air pollution scientists, challenging them to seek out new ways to research air pollution and its health effects on potentially vulnerable communities.

About the Author: Becky Fried is a science writer with EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research. Her OnAir posts are a regular “Science Wednesday” feature.

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

Please share this post. However, please don't change the title or the content. If you do make changes, don't attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

7 Responses leave one →
  1. Al Bannet permalink
    March 26, 2010

    Ms. Fried:

    Do you have information on “scrubbers”, which is some sort of technology to process the smoke from coal fired pwer plants?

  2. Jesús Torres Navarro permalink
    March 26, 2010

    La Justicia Ambiental, tal y como Ustedes la entienden, es una prioridad para la Humanidad entera; su difisión masiva representa un firme impulso a la indispensable “Toma de Conciencia” en la Comunidades de todo el Planeta: ACCIONES LOCALES CON VISIÖN GLOBAL, felicidades por su excelente labor

  3. Francisco Nadal C permalink
    March 26, 2010

    Yes, but scrubbers are a piece of equipment where flue gases are “washed out”. This process is inteded for cleaning flue gases produced when burning any class of combustible matter and its complexity depends on how clean you want have your flue gases.

  4. Michael E. Bailey permalink
    March 26, 2010

    This is also a key issue area. Communities that are working class or poor and minority probably have air and water pollution significantly higher than other communihties because they are easier to be taken advantage of by those whose only concern is maximising their profits. One major concern the opponents to the multibillion dollar state water bond we will vote on in November have is that minority communities seem to get less and more polluted water than others. Best wishes, Michael E. Bailey.

  5. Dr. E. Waal permalink
    March 27, 2010

    Ms. Fried, you say, “According to EPA, environmental justice “will be achieved when everyone enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and equal access to the decision-making process to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.”

    Is this a serious statement? With absolute endpoints, a statement like this is laughable. A better statement is “environmental justice will be achieved when no individual or group of individuals is denied protection or access to the decision making process as a result of their race, color, creed, or socio-economic status.”

    Many people in our country have internet access, some don’t. Inequity in access to the decision making processes will exist so long as people have to use different systems to access the decision making process. Similarly, some people remain illiterate and cannot enjoy equal access to the decision making process because so much of it relies on the ability to read.

    If two persons live in two areas which both continually meet the national Ambient Air Quality Standard for particulate matter, and one area averages 50% of the standard and the other 30% of the standard, neither should be harmed, but do both enjoy “..the same degree of protection…” No they don’t. But there is no need to move toward equity or additional protectiveness for the more exposed of the two. Adequate protection should be the goal, not equal protection.

    And how do we resolve the inequity created by our own EPA’s imposition of unneccessary burden. We’re considering another lowering of the 8-hour ozone standard to a level between 60 and 70 ppb. The data show there is no statistically significant difference in the health protection of a lower 60 – 70 ppb standard as opposed to the current 75 ppb. However the economic impacts are staggering at the lower levels. Those economic impacts translate, in part, to a reduction of employe benefits, including health benefits. There will be loss of jobs. Very often lost jobs are in work groups whose work products are discretionary; groundskeeping, janitorial services, secretarial and clerical. These are already often minimum wage jobs. Loss of benefits and loss of employment have profound negative health impacts. While there will be environmental related jobs to meet the new standard, there is a net loss of jobs and general welfare (compensation and benefits) when employment in sectors that produce wealth (manufacturing/mining/agriculture) are reduced.

    If we want environmental justice, let’s target the right needs. Let all people have a voice in the issues that affect them, and let’s never deny protection based on race, color, creed, or socio-economic status.

  6. Lina-EPA permalink*
    March 29, 2010

    Sr. Torres:
    Gracias por sus comentarios. definitivamente, todos debemos colaborar para ayudar a concienciar al público en general, especialmente las comunidades pobres y aquellas afectadas por problemas ambientales de la necesidad de proteger nuestro Planeta.

  7. Ms.Khaing Mon Kyaw permalink
    November 10, 2010

    For a healthy community, awareness of environmental Justic and environment policy by policymaker are very important.

Leave a Reply

Note: You can use basic XHTML in your comments. Your email address will never be published.

Subscribe to this comment feed via RSS