Earlier this week, I was at a unique environmental justice event in Boston. It was a meeting of grantees of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, one of the most hopeful government agencies I’ve come across. One of its activities is to fund university researchers and grassroots groups which collaborate to study the environmental causes of asthma, cancers, lupus, lung disease (and more) in their home communities.
Environmental health research is critically needed, with diseases like breast cancer being increasingly recognized as environmental justice issues, as the director of grantee organization and event host Silent Spring Institute put it to me:
African American women are dying of breast cancer at much higher rates than white women are. There are many factors, and the actual causes of this are not yet known (thanks in part to the intransigence of industry groups), but the fact that 1 in 3 African American women work in blue-collar jobs rife with toxic exposures, and the fact that these same womens’ homes are much more likely located near a diesel bus garage, landfill, factory, or refinery compounds the problem.
Her organization is partnering with California-based Communities for a Better Environment to study the problem using clever indoor air quality testing equipment they’ve designed for the purpose, and the hope is that the partners can craft an effective grassroots response to this epidemic, stating clearly that good environmental health is everyone’s right.