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identifying hazards to human health, evaluating the adverse health effects, and developing interventions to reduce or prevent risks for all members of society. Environmental justice research bears a special relationship to the communities being studied, requiring unusual degrees of collaboration if it is to be scientifically valid as well as policy relevant and if the findings are to be effectively implemented.
The Data and Site Visits
The published literature on environmental justice and the related health effects is not abundant. Indeed, very little environmental and occupational medicine research specifically includes data for communities of concern and poor or minority workers. Adequate data are not available in most instances to examine the relationships among the environmental, racial, ethnic, and other socioeconomic determinants of adverse health outcomes. More research is needed to clarify these relationships. Still, there is a fair amount of published literature on the siting of toxic waste facilities, and workplace injuries, exposures, and fatalities are the best-documented environmental effects on health. Despite the inadequacy of the information to date, it seems clear that inequities related to environmental and occupational hazards do exist.
To explore these issues in greater depth beyond what could be learned from the literature, the committee visited a number of low-income and minority communities with known environmental problems and also heard presentations from stakeholders, citizens, and other concerned parties. During these visits, committee members participated in dialogues with the residents of communities in which known putative environmental hazards existed and environmental justice issues were at the forefront. When possible, the committee also heard from local, state, and federal officials, as well as industry representatives. In each instance, the committee met with local grassroots leaders, visited the neighborhoods of people affected by environmental concerns, and heard firsthand the myriad interrelated concerns.
Some of the communities visited were highly industrialized and located in close proximity to major urban centers (Chicago and New Orleans). Other communities were located near industrialized facilities without an urban infrastructure (Nogales, Arizona) but with similar concerns about exposure. Some were in agricultural communities in which the exposures of concern were agricultural chemicals (El Paso, Texas), and some were in regions with past major federal activities (Hanford, Washington). The committee recognizes that the issues and areas of concern of the communities visited are only samples but believes that these experiences provided insightful examples that helped to shape and frame the deliberations and, ultimately, the conclusions and recommendations.