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

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.