Children: The unwitting target of environmental injustices

Journal Article

Children have little control over where they live, what they eat, the financial circumstances of their families, or the developmental activities and behaviors that make them vulnerable to environmental contaminants. Minority and poor families disproportionately live in communities with landfills, hazardous waste facilities, incinerators, industrial plants, and old housing with poor indoor air quality and lead-based paint. Residents of these communities are also more likely than are more affluent communities to consume fish on a regular basis from local waters, many of which have banned fishing. Consequently, these children and their families are exposed more frequently than are children in other communities to potentially dangerous chemicals that can affect health. Data indicate that poor and minority children have higher rates of asthma, elevated blood lead levels, learning disabilities, and hyperactivity than do non-minority and more affluent children. When a group of people is exposed unfairly and inequitably to toxins in their communities, workplaces, and schools, a phenomenon called environmental discrimination or environmental racism exists. Environmental justice is a US governmental remedy that requires the application of fair strategies and processes in the resolution of inequality related to environmental contamination. The US response resulted in the establishment of offices of Environmental Justice within the EPA and ATSDR and passage of important legislation and policies, such as the Community Planning and Right-to-Know Act of 1986, Executive Order 12898 (Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations), and Executive Order 13045, a parallel order to protect low-income and minority children from actual and potential environmental hazards. Communities and advocacy groups play an important role in promoting healthier environments for children. Frequently, low-income and minority communities are perceived as less powerful, less organized, and ill equipped to defend against actual and potential sources of environmental contamination. Health care professionals are in a strategic position to assist with community development, organizing, and empowerment through educational programming, networking, and supporting other activities that bring attention to the plight of environmentally vulnerable communities.

Duke Authors

Cited Authors

  • Powell, DL; Stewart, V

Published Date

  • 2001

Published In

Volume / Issue

  • 48 / 5

Start / End Page

  • 1291 - 1305

International Standard Serial Number (ISSN)

  • 0031-3955