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Presidential Policy Series: Environmental Health

History of Environmental Health in the United States

Environmental health is a component of public health that examines how the natural and built environments affect human health.

The World Health Organization defines environmental health as:

“Those aspects of human health and disease that are determined by factors in the environment. It also refers to the theory and practice of assessing and controlling factors in the environment that can potentially affect health.

Environmental health … includes both the direct pathological effects of chemicals, radiation and some biological agents, and the effects (often indirect) on health and well being of the broad physical, psychological, social and cultural environment, which includes housing, urban development, land use and transport.” 

The World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 4 deaths globally are caused by environmental health risk factors, such as air pollution, poor sanitation and waste management, and exposure to industrial and natural toxins such as lead, mercury, arsenic, radon and asbestos. 

2016.09.20.Presidential_Series.pngIn the United States, the onus of environmental health is on the US Environmental Protection Agency. The mission of the EPA is “to protect human health and the environment.” The United States Congress passes laws related to environmental management, and the EPA then develops regulations to match the laws. Specifically, EPA implements such key environmental laws as the Clean Water Act and the Clean Air Act. EPA’s regulations form the basis for national standards that states and tribes must enforce through their own local regulations.

Closely related topics to environmental health include environmental justice, an area that looks at how social inequalities affect individual’s exposure to environmental risk factors. Climate justice is similar to environmental justice but principally assesses how the changing climate affects different members of society.

Clinton’s Policies on Environmental Health

Hillary Clinton’s campaign acknowledges that “the burdens of air pollution, water pollution, and toxic hazards are borne disproportionately by low-income communities and communities of color” (HillaryClinton.com). Not only are these populations more likely to be affected by the risk factors associated with environmental health, but they are also less likely to have the resources to seek proper treatment for their health problems. Clinton calls for modernizing our “aging and inadequate” drinking and wastewater systems. Unfortunately, the ill effects of improper water sanitation have been made widely known through the Flint water crisis.

Ms. Clinton’s campaign also advocates strengthening public health protections in our laws, particularly for criminal and civil violations “that exposure communities to environmental harm.” Clinton will also work to “replenish” the federal Superfund, an EPA program responsible for cleaning up the nation’s most contaminated land, such as Love Canal.  

Trump

One of Donald Trump’s few clear policy proposals is to abolish the EPA. As a businessman, Trump has been accused of environmental regulation violations and paid fines related to building his real estate proprieties, and this could be the cause of his rancor against the EPA.  Trump sees the EPA as an “impediment to growth and jobs” (MarketWatch.com). 

At the Republican National Convention in Cleveland, Senator John Barrasso of Wyoming mocked the Democratic Party’s Platform’s section on “climate justice.” But ironically, in 1969 it was in Cleveland that the Cuyahoga River caught fire due to the heavy amounts of industrial pollution and oil slicks (ThinkProgressive.org). This event spurred the creation of the EPA, the Clean Water Act, and the Clean Air Act during the administration of President Richard Nixon. Cleveland has been tackling the environmental health issues of its citizens for years, and federal regulations have significantly helped their efforts. The Cuyahoga River has not caught on fire since the EPA was founded. What would the Cuyahoga River come to look like under a Trump presidency?

Conclusion

Hillary Clinton will work to strengthen and modernize our existing federal regulations that support environmental health in the United States. Donald Trump would abolish the EPA, allow companies to pollute with abandon, all in the name of economic growth. With no regard for the adverse effects of environmental contamination, a Trump presidency could prove disastrous for the environment and American citizens’ health.

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Topics: public policy environmental health election 2016