Environmental Health

For science.

The air we breathe, the water we drink, the food we eat and the condition of our homes all affect our health.[1] Exposure to air pollution worsens serious respiratory conditions such as asthma,[2] and millions of Americans are at risk for unsafe drinking water.[3] Communities of color often face greater community health risks —  such as poorer air quality[4] —  and fewer health-boosting opportunities — such as safe places to walk[5] — than their white counterparts. Climate change, which is already seriously affecting people’s health and well-being,[6] causes more frequent and extreme natural disasters, such as hurricanes, flooding and drought. It degrades food security and water and air quality and heightens the risks of vector-borne diseases, such as West Nile virus and Lyme disease. Like so many health threats, climate change also disproportionately affects already-vulnerable populations, such as the elderly, young children, people living in poverty and people with chronic diseases.

For action.

Advocate for increased funding to improve our water infrastructure. Maintaining today's water service levels will cost an estimated $1 trillion over the next 25 years.[3] Call for adequate funding to support public health workers in monitoring, preparing for and responding to the health effects of climate change. Support policies that help mitigate and prevent worsening climate change, such as rules that reduce greenhouse gas emissions and partnerships that reduce people’s reliance on cars. Taking these and similar steps can have positive co-benefits for health, such as improving air quality and encouraging active commuting. Invest in communities most impacted by climate change and center their voices in decisionmaking on climate and health actions.[7] Enhance data-sharing systems to help improve communication between federal, state and local environmental health stakeholders.[8] Meet with community members to identify resources, needs and environmental health priorities.[9]

For health.

Every dollar spent on national- and state-level environmental health programs saves $71 in asthma-related expenditures.[10] Health departments across the country are already busy preparing for the impacts of climate change, many of them participating in CDC’s Climate-Ready States and Cities Initiative[11] and embracing CDC’s five-step Building Resilience Against Climate Effects framework.[12] Health departments using the BRACE framework have reported a variety of success stories,[13] such as launching new vulnerability assessments and collaborating across sectors to reduce emissions. Addressing climate change also comes with new opportunities to save lives and improve health. Research shows smart federal and state policy can have big effects. For instance, federal officials estimate[14] reducing power plant emissions could prevent thousands of premature deaths and provide billions of dollars in public health benefits.

For justice.

Communities of color and low-income populations disproportionately bear the brunt of environmental issues. Examples are lead contamination in Flint, Michigan, coastal flooding community displacement, and the locations of waste management facilities.[15] The health burden from air pollution is 54% higher for black Americans than the overall population. Communities of color have a 28% higher health burden than the overall population.[10] Equitable solutions for environmental issues include ensuring access to clean air, water and green spaces.