Science, Activism Come Together at Environmental Justice Town Hall

By Haskins, Julia | The Nation's Health, January 2019 | Go to article overview

Science, Activism Come Together at Environmental Justice Town Hall


Haskins, Julia, The Nation's Health


IT IS IMPOSSIBLE to discuss health equity without a recognition of environmental justice. That was the message underscored at an Environmental Justice Town Hall held Nov. 11 during APHA's 2018 Annual Meeting and Expo.

The event charged public health advocates to look at the environmental factors contributing to worse health outcomes among marginalized and underserved populations and use their skills to effect change.

Communities most affected by pollution disproportionately feel the negative impact of social determinants of health such as low levels of education, poor housing and lack of green space, said APHA member Diane Takvorian, MSW, executive director of the San Diego-based Environmental Health Coalition, during the event.

However, it can be challenging to make sense of the environmental impacts on health and wellness in such communities. Enter CalEnviroScreen, a mapping tool that shows the burden of pollution among communities across California.

Developing the tool was a matter of deep importance for APHA member Arsenio Mataka, JD, environmental advisor to California Attorney General Xavier Becerra. Mataka grew up in the San Joaquin Valley, where children in his neighborhood played football in a cemetery because they did not have access to safe green space, he said. He recalled watching his parents dismissed at local government meetings when they brought up environmental concerns affecting their community.

When Mataka joined the California Environmental Protection Agency, he had to make the case for adopting a pollution screening tool to both the organization and community members. He knew that it would help empower people to have evidence-based information about where they lived.

"We were driven by this belief that if we could somehow quantify the burden of pollution that people were (suffering) from that we could change course of communities," Mataka said.

APHA member Luis Olmedo, executive director of Comite Civico del Valle in Brawley, California, also stressed the need for collecting and accessing data to help communities develop solutions to environmental crises.

One of the biggest issues affecting the Imperial Valley where Olmedo is based is poor air quality resulting from a drying shoreline on the Salton Sea. …

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