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NIH Environmental Management System

Take Action to Protect the Future

Environmental Awareness & Equality

​As a part of Earth Day, we want to increase the awareness of current environmental issues. Similarly, we would also like to promote environmental and social justice, specifically as it applies to the current and future strategies for addressing environmental issues.

Many environmental issues will have a significant adverse impact on public health in the coming decades. Climate change, driven largely by the greenhouse gas emissions from fossil fuel combustion, is threatening to change the planet we call home. The effects of climate change have already been observed in loss of sea ice, rising sea level, heat wave intensity and duration, and increased ocean acidity, among others. Access to clean air, water, and land is also a growing concern throughout the world as these resources become overburdened by environmental pollution. Poor air and water quality contribute significantly to human morbidity and mortality as well as environmental degradation. If you would like to learn more about the current issues facing the environment, please check out some of these sites:

Here are some options for kids:

Another key issue for the present and future is environmental justice (EJ). EJ calls for equal treatment and involvement of all people in the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws and policies. The EJ movement arose in the 1980s as it became strikingly apparent that environmental burdens were disproportionately impacting Black, Indigenous, and low-income communities across the U.S. These communities often do not have equal access to the decision-making process and are left with little control over the impacts their communities face. One of the most infamous examples of environmental inequality is the effect of Hurricane Katrina on the inhabitants of Louisiana and Mississippi. It is important to recognize that this was not an isolated incident as an expected impact of climate change is an increase in the intensity and frequency of hurricanes. EJ has been made a priority of the Biden-Harris Administration. Here are a few more sources of information on environmental justice:

Communities that experience disproportionate environmental burden tend to remain at a low socioeconomic status because of the lost opportunities of income and health expenditures. The devastating impacts experienced from environmental stressors are further exacerbated by exploitative zoning practices that stem from decades of systemic racism, creating segregated neighborhoods. Years of discriminatory and racist zoning policies have resulted in non-white and low-wealth communities to be located near pollution sources (Banzhaf et al., 2019; Woo et al., 2019) that impose a disproportionate burden on the health of these populations (Wilson, 2009). These groups are often excluded from the policy decisions that shape the distribution of their risk (Freudenberg et al. 2011). Multiple studies have found race and income to be significant factors when observing differential exposure to pollutants (Gee & Payne-Sturges, 2004; Freudenberg et al., 2011), some even suggesting that race is the most consistent variable associated with higher risk or proximity to hazards (Kochanek et al. 2015; Ringquist, 2005).

The NIH has made strides towards achieving diversity within the scientific workforce, but there is still more than can be done! Achieving a diverse workforce has been shown to increase performance, creativity, and organizational success. Here are some sources on scientific workforce diversity:


Banzhaf, S., Ma, L., Timmins, C. (2019). Environmental Justice: The Economics of Race, Place,
and Pollution. Journal of Economic Perspectives, 33(1), 185-208.
Freudenberg, N., Pastor, M., Israel, B. (2011). Strengthening Community Capacity to Participate
in Making Decisions to Reduce Disproportionate Environmental Exposures. American Journal of Public Health, 101(S1), S123-S130.
Gee, G. C., & Payne-Sturges, D. C. (2004). Environmental health disparities: a framework
integrating psychosocial and environmental concepts. Environmental health perspectives112(17), 1645–1653.
Kochanek, K., Arias, E., Anderson, R. (2015). Leading Causes of Death Contributing to
Decrease in Life Expectancy Gap Between Black and White Populations: United States. 1999-2013. National Center for Health Statistics Data Brief, 218.
Ringquist, E. (2005). Assessing Evidence of Environmental Inequalities: A Meta-Analysis.
Journal of Policy Analysis and Management, 24(2), 223-247.
Wilson, S. (2009). An Ecologic Framework to Study and Address Environmental Justice and
Community Health Issues. Environmental Justice 2(1), 15-23.
Woo, B., Kravitz-Wirtz, N., Sass, V., Crowder, K., Teixeira, S., Takeuchi, D. (2018). Residential
Segregation and Racial/Ethnic Disparities in Ambient Air Pollution. Race and Social Problems, 11 60-67.

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