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Income and Race as factors in Environmental Health

Isabella Blair, Portland, Oregon

Week 9: November 5, 2018

Fifty percent of the world’s population is at risk of contracting Dengue. Dengue is a disease transferred by mosquitoes that can be potentially deadly with repeated infection. These mosquitoes thrive in environments with stagnant water. We read an excerpt from the book, “Dengue in the Landscape,” that discusses Dengue in Ciudad Sandino in Nicaragua.

“Dengue in the Landscape” discusses the case of a young girl, Fatima, who contracts Dengue and the investigations conducted by the Nicaraguan Ministry of Health (MINSA). They investigated Fatima’s house and found that they did not have screens or any real protection from mosquitoes in their home, calling it an “open air structure.” There were also numerous places where water could pool near their home, creating potential habitats for dengue-carrying mosquitoes.

Environmental Justice, as defined by the EPA is: “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income with respect to the development, implementation, and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.” (For more information about the EPA and environmental justice, click here.) In Nicaragua, lower income people are at a higher risk of contracting Dengue, which makes it an issue of Environmental Justice.

An article we read titled, “Toxic Wastes and Race at Twenty: Why Race Still Matters After All of These Years,” discussing the Environmental Justice movement mentions some shocking statistics in the US: “Black children are five times more likely than white children to have lead poisoning.” The article goes on to say that “studies suggest that a young person’s lead burden is linked to lower IQ, lower high school graduation rates, and increased delinquency.” Not only are children of color more at risk of lead poisoning, but this may lead to further disadvantage in life. What do you do when all you can afford is a land in a hazardous area? This is an issue of injustice in distribution. Lower income people are more likely to live near hazardous waste sites and are therefore more at risk.

Mosquito

Photograph from Pexels.com

 

What we need to keep in mind is that environmental justice is not just about distribution. And while this is a very important factor, we must also focus on the response and recovery that is provided for people affected by this unjust distribution. This is a matter of recognition. People of color are less likely to gain the recognition they need to solve this environmental issue. And, while we may recognize that there is a problem, something must be done to fix it. This issue of recognition and taking action is faced in many realms of environmental studies.

So what can be done? Who is going to do it? Who should we focus on first? The issue is that higher income people, often white people, are more likely to receive this attention first.

I am a firm believer that people of lesser income tend to have busier and more stressful lives. Less advantaged people are often unable to take care of their health or unable to prioritize it. People are busy focusing on the everyday stresses of life, and may not necessarily have the resources to take care of their health. I often find myself struggling to find time to visit a doctor because doctors are often only available at inconvenient times – during the Monday through Friday work week hours – making it hard to take off work, or in my case, school. It’s also a matter of transportation and health insurance. I can only imagine how difficult it might be for people with less resources than I do.

I believe that environmental justice is one of the most important issues that we need to face as a society. People in poverty deserve to live in an environment that does not put them at risk, and they deserve the attention of the government to repair the damage that has already been done.

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