public housing

What’s on the Inside Counts Too!

Environmental Justice issues are not limited to pollution outside. 

In the world of environmental justice (EJ), there are many articles and discussions around the impacts from pollution that occur outdoors – industrial pollution, contaminated water bodies, mobile emissions, and other air quality impacts; however, many low income, minority communities often suffer from residential exposure to harmful contaminants that either occur indoors or infiltrate from outdoors. Let’s examine a few articles that have covered this topic.

In Moving Environmental Justice Indoors: Understanding Structural Influences on Residential Exposure Patterns in Low-Income Communities, which was published in the American Journal of Public Health in 2011, the authors explore disparities in indoor residential environmental quality. Below are some pertinent observations/ conclusions based on their research:

  • People in low income communities are more likely to live closer to mobile and stationary sources of pollution which increases the chance of outdoor pollution infiltrating indoors
    • Low income homes are often older and not as structurally sound (having holes). This may lead to increased infiltration from outdoors.
  • Homes within low income communities are more likely to have peeling paint which is a predictor of lead exposure in older homes; water leaks which are a predictor of mold and moisture development; and structural issues that serve as entry points for cockroaches and other pests
  • Communities with low socioeconomic status are more likely to experience second hand smoke particularly people who live within older multifamily buildings because the air infiltrates from unit to unit
  • One study has shown that lead concentrations in household dust, associations were found with income, race/ethnicity, floor surface or condition, and year of construction
  • Residential infestation of pests is linked to low socioeconomic status
  • Residential exposure to pesticides is more prominent in low income communities due to infestation

This research study explores several angles of exposure to indoor environmental justice issues each can be explored further as stand-alone research to further validate the connections between low socioeconomic status and EJ.

 

The Boston Globe published in article in April 2016 reporting Low Income, minority areas seen as lead poisoning hot spots. While this article is focused on Massachusetts this may be reflective of issues within your community as well. Here are a few findings as revealed within this article:

  • Cases where children have harmful levels of lead in their blood are predominantly in low income and minority communities
  • Boston has a citywide rate of lead poisoning at 2.8% but pockets within Dorchester (an overwhelmingly African American neighborhood) have rates over 6%
  • The article quotes Robert Knorr, the Director of Environmental Epidemiology at the Massachusetts Department of Public Health’s Bureau of Health as stating “Being poor and being a minority not only increases the risk of blood lead poisoning but makes it difficult to find a safe home”
  • Massachusetts has the second oldest housing stock in the country. Children living in these homes are primarily low income and minorities.

This news article in the Boston Globe is hyper focused on Massachusetts; however, it further validates the impact of indoor environmental issues concentrated in marginalized communities.

In an article entitled Homes of low-income minority families with asthmatic children have increased condition issues published in the Allergy and Asthma Proceedings, the correlation between home maintenance issues in low income minority communities and the prevalence of asthma in children is explored. Below are some discussion points and findings from the article:

  • Reviewing the occurrences of asthma in urban and rural communities shows that there is a socioeconomic difference that affects access to and quality of health care
  • Housing that is subpar and indoor environmental exposures have been correlated with increased indoor allergen exposure and sensitization and greater asthma diseases and death for low-income, minority children living in urban areas
  • This subpar housing usually has cracks that allow pests such as bugs and rodents to enter the home such as cockroaches, which can trigger asthma and allergies
  • Poor ventilation allows for high concentrations of allergens, tobacco smoke, CO2, radon and VOCs
  • In this study, homes of Latino children had the highest number of maintenance concerns followed by homes of black children and then homes of non-Latino white children
  • The study concluded that asthmatic children from low income black and Latino families had more areas of home and safety and maintenance concerns than non-Latino whites recruited from the same region
  • This article purports that improving living conditions in cities offers great promise for reducing health disparities and improving the quality of life and well being of children

This article focuses specifically on asthma but does point out that both children and adults who live in substandard housing face a host of health issues but lack adequate access to health care. Children living in inadequate housing are particularly vulnerable to asthma because of the identified maintenance concerns. The study focused on a small concentration of homes so it would be great to see this broadened across the United States.

Unfortunately, low income and minority communities face health risks linked to outdoor environmental justice issues but this is compounded by the fact that they often live in substandard housing which puts them at risk inside their home. Advocacy to eradicate environmental inequities must go beyond fighting industrial sources of pollution to advocating for adequate housing that is properly maintained for all.

Chanceé Lundy Russell is the Co-Founder of Nspiregreen LLC an environmental consulting, urban planning and public engagement firm based in Washington, DC. The Selma, Alabama native received her BS in Environmental Science from Alabama A&M University and her MS in Civil Engineering from Florida State University. She is passionate about environmental justice issues and works to create healthy, livable communities for all.

References:

Adamkiewicz, G., Zota, A. R., Fabian, M. P., Chahine, T., Julien, R., Spengler, J. D., & Levy, J. I. (2011). Moving Environmental Justice Indoors: Understanding Structural Influences on Residential Exposure Patterns in Low-Income Communities. American Journal of Public Health101(Suppl 1), S238–S245. http://doi.org/10.2105/AJPH.2011.300119

Pacheco, C. M., Ciaccio, C. E., Nazir, N., Daley, C. M., DiDonna, A., Choi, W. S., … Rosenwasser, L. J. (2014). Homes of low-income minority families with asthmatic children have increased condition issues. Allergy and Asthma Proceedings35(6), 467–474. http://doi.org/10.2500/aap.2014.35.3792

Rocheleau, Matt. “Low-income, Minority Areas Seen as Lead Poisoning Hot Spots.” The Boston Globe. N.p., 11 Apr. 2016. Web. 23 May 2017.

 

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Waste and Race Matter: Current Issues In Environmental Justice

As residents of the wealthiest country on the planet, having clean air, water, access to food and living free of harmful toxins shouldn’t be a privilege, it should be a right. Unfortunately, communities of color continue to bear the burden of environmental racism and neglect. Like our last post on How Transportation Shaped Black Communities, I am listing articles that feature communities suffering at the hands of environmental injustice. While administrations and policies change, it is important to remember that there are humans caught in the cross hairs of politics and willful neglect. It is up to each of us to share their stories, advocate with them, and work to combat environmental racism.

These select articles do not do justice to an issue that pervades marginalized communities; however, they do provide some context to issues that too many communities face.  Unfortunately, race matters when it comes to waste. We must advocate for regulations, more stringent policies, enforcement and cleaner technologies until environmental racism is eradicated.

Chanceé Lundy Russell is the Co-Founder of Nspiregreen LLC an environmental consulting, urban planning and public engagement firm based in Washington, DC. The Selma, Alabama native received her BS in Environmental Science from Alabama A&M University and her MS in Civil Engineering from Florida State University. She is passionate about environmental justice issues and works to create healthy, livable communities for all.

 

People sit in a park surrounded by large trees

How to Connect with Nature while Living in a City

I have always being a strong supporter of protecting and adding more vegetation and green space in urban areas. I grew up in Caracas, Venezuela, where the  “Ávila” mountain  was so big you could see it from everywhere in the city. Below is a picture of the Avila to give you a sense of the size . Even though I was surrounded by buses and cars, large buildings, and crowds, looking at the Ávila made me feel somehow connected to nature. When I moved to the Washington, DC metro area it became more difficult for me to find those spaces where I feel the same type of connection with the natural environment. I have found some parks and green areas in DC, but they are not in my way to work or home. I am only able to enjoy those pockets of nature during my free time.

Distant photo of a city with a large mountain in the horizon.

View of Caracas with the Avila National Park in the background (Photo by Daniel)

There are many benefits of connecting with nature in our daily lives, including mental health, stress reduction, and emotional wellbeing. The Centre for Urban Design and Mental Health (UD/MH) website provides many articles and posts that discuss the benefits of to bringing nature to our cities for our mental and emotional well-being.

Until we are able to build and live in Biophilic Cities, we have to make a conscious effort to find ways to connect with nature while living in the city. Here are some ideas on how you can do that:

  • Find pockets of nature on your way home or work: Just taking a few minutes to admire a tree in front of your home or work place can help to connect with nature. Everyday, I walk near Franklin Square on my way to work. Observing the park while I walk makes me feel better, especially during the fall when the leaves are changing.
Historic sculpture and people walking at a vegetated square. Buildings in the background.

Franklin Square, Washington, DC

  • Keep a living plant at work: There are a variety of plants that require little care that you can put on your desk or in the office. One of those are succulents, such as the ones we created on our team building few months ago.
Photo of a succulent plant in a circular bowl in a work desk near a computer keyboard and display

Plant in a work station

  • Visit vegetated parks on weekend: In DC, there are various national parks and green areas within and around the city. Taking a time to see the leaves of the trees moving, breath fresh air, or look at the running water from a creek can make you feel refreshed and energized.
Picture of a stone bridge over a rivers surrounded by large trees.

Rock Creek Park, Washington, DC

  • Take leisure walks along streets with old, shadow tree-lines: I love walking in Old Town Alexandria because it is full of large trees that make me feel connected to nature even though I’m in an urban place. Identify streets like that near your work or home, and take leisure walks during the day.
Picture of a sidewalk with buildings on the left and tree-lines on the right

Old Town Alexandria, VA

 

 

Fabiana I. Paez is passionate about creating visual designs to communicate and engage people in urban planning projects, as well as social and environmental causes.





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