Environmental Health

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Why should I care?

In the U.S., air pollution contributes to thousands of premature births and costs billions of dollars. In 2007, asthma cost the U.S. $56 billion in medical care, lost productivity and premature death. Costs of childhood lead poisoning are also in the billions (though each dollar invested in controlling the environmental hazard returns up to $200 in savings). The economic benefit of cleaning up mercury and other air toxins is in the billions — not to mention the up to 46,000 premature deaths that could be prevented.

Then there's climate change, which will continue to impact people’s health and just about every factor that influences our health. Climate change is a serious risk to human health, impacting our food, water, air, disease risk and mental well-being. It's expected to increase heat-related deaths, exacerbate chronic conditions such as respiratory illnesses and heart disease, increase dangerous asthma events, increase the severity and frequency of natural disasters, and endanger water safety and food security. Recent studies also document the mental toll of climate-related events. For example, two years after Superstorm Sandy, those who experienced the disaster were still reporting serious mental distress at levels nearly twice the national average.

In the last decade, extreme weather and fire events have cost the country more than $350 billion, and climate change is only predicted to make it worse. However, the negative impacts of climate change won't be evenly distributed — it's expected to worsen existing inequalities. One study estimated that if nothing is done about climate change, the poorest third of U.S. counties could experience climate-related damages costing up to 20 percent of a county's entire income.

What can I do?

#SpeakForHealth: Environmental health is closely intertwined with policy, from laws that keep our air and water clean to rules that protect us from toxic chemicals to local ordinances that ensure healthy housing. For example, by 2020, the Clean Air Act will have prevented more than 230,000 early deaths. And thanks to policies that removed lead from products like house paint and gasoline, dangerous blood lead levels in children have plummeted (though more than 3 million young kids still live in homes with a lead risk). Smart policies that prioritize health can make a big difference.

Use your voice to support policies and decisions that prevent harmful environmental exposures, build community resilience and protect the most vulnerable. Support funding for strong environmental public health systems — these are the systems that monitor our communities for dangerous contaminants and fend off preventable disease.

Demand action on climate change: Climate change is real and one of the greatest health threats of the 21st century. Support efforts and policies that reduce climate-related emissions, prepare for and mitigate the impacts of climate change, and ready the country for a clean energy future. For example, if the Clean Power Plan stays on the books, it could save the country $20 billion in climate costs and deliver up to $34 billion in health benefits. Local and individual action on climate change makes a difference, too — learn how.

Stand for environmental justice: Environmental health risks affect some communities much more than others. For example, research shows polluting industries are disproportionately located in poor communities and in communities of color. Another example: While the number of Americans with asthma increased to 25 million between 2001 and 2009, black children shouldered a disproportionate burden, with rates going up 50 percent. Learn more about environmental injustice and how to take action at the NAACP Environmental and Climate Justice Program.

American Public Health Association