The origin of this report lies in a series of federal efforts and activities that were designed to identify and address various issues related to environmental justice.* The first of these efforts was in 1990 at the National Minority Health Conference: Focus on Environmental Contamination. The conference, sponsored by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, was the first attempt by a federal agency to bring together a group of scientists who had evaluated various aspects of environmental justice from different perspectives. Since then, focused interest and coverage of environmental justice issues have accelerated with reports from EPA, congressional hearings, and reports by the U.S. General Accounting Office. In general, these activities highlight evidence that the effects of environmental health hazards are borne disproportionately by disadvantaged communities, including those who are poor, have limited education, and are either unemployed or work under hazardous conditions. Inadequate access to health care and a greater burden of disease compound whatever adverse health effects might be associated with such hazards.
The concept and goal of environmental justice gained wider recognition in February 1994, when President William Clinton signed Executive Order 12898 entitled Federal Actions to Address Environmental Justice in Minority Populations and Low-Income Populations (see Appendix D). This executive order called for each federal agency to develop programs and strategies to ensure that poor and minority communities no longer suffer from discriminatory environmental regulations or disparate environmental health effects. The signing of the executive order coincided with the Symposium on Health Research and Needs to Ensure Environmental Justice, sponsored by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences in conjunction with the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry and several other federal agencies. Ultimately, the proceedings of that symposium led to a request that IOM produce a report with recommendations on the research, clinical, and educational needs required to achieve environmental justice (National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, 1994).
In response to Executive Order 12898 and the proceedings of the 1994 symposium, the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences—as the lead agency for a consortium of other institutes of the National Institutes of Health and agencies including the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention,