Supporting Research to Address Environmental Health Disparities

By Jim Johnson

Where you are from can determine a lot about you—what sports team you cheer for, what foods you like, and if you say yinz, y’all, or you guys. But where you are from can also impact your health and well-being. Depending on where you’re from, you may not have had access to healthy food, your home might have had lead paint, or you might have lived close to a busy highway where thousands of cars emitted pollution every day.

children play outsideSome communities are more affected than others. For example—children, older adults, and people with preexisting conditions are more likely to suffer negative health effects when exposed to pollution, and people of low socioeconomic status are more likely to live near busy highways, rail yards, and industries where they can be exposed to pollution from these sources. These are disproportionately impacted communities and we need to make sure that they are not overlooked.

That’s why I’m happy to announce that EPA, in partnership with the National Institutes of Health, is awarding $25.5 million to five universities to create Centers of Excellence on Environmental Health Disparities Research that will work with local communities to address these issues. Over the next five years, the centers will conduct research to understand environmentally driven health disparities and improve environmental conditions surrounding disadvantaged communities.

The centers will be headed by the following universities:

  • Harvard University will study how housing may affect birth weight, childhood growth trajectories, and risk of death from cardiovascular disease, and whether improved urban housing may benefit health.
  • Johns Hopkins University will compare urban and rural effects of poverty on chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, and the impact of improved dietary intake on preventing or mitigating disease progression.
  • University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center will examine how contact with metal mixtures from abandoned mines affects rural Native American populations through exposures related to inadequate drinking water infrastructure, reliance on local foods, and other uses of local resources to maintain their traditional lifestyle and culture.
  • University of Arizona will work with indigenous populations to examine chemical contamination of traditional foods, water, air, and household environments, while increasing environmental health literacy.
  • University of Southern California will study how environmental factors may contribute to childhood obesity and excessive weight gain during pregnancy in Hispanic and Latino communities.

With the support of these revolutionary centers of excellence, EPA is working to overcome these community-based issues and protect human health.

About the Author: Dr. James H. Johnson Jr. is the Director of EPA’s National Center for Environmental Research. NCER supports leading edge extramural research in exposure, effects, risk assessment, and risk management by managing competitions for Science to Achieve Results and People, Prosperity and the Planet grants, STAR and Greater Research Opportunities Fellowships, and for research contracts under the Small Business Innovative Research Program.

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