Social Determinants Meet Environmental Health

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By: Evelyn Zavala, Science Intern
I was drawn to working with CHEJ because of their work with communities across the United States of diverse backgrounds, socio-economic status, ethnicities, geographical locations, and education. CHEJ is where the community meets science, environment, health, and justice. Recently we have seen how vital this relationship really is. While the snowstorms of 2021 are seen across the country, Texas has been hit hard. Within Texas, minority and marginalized communities were hit even worse. 
Social Determinants of Health are described as the conditions in the environment where people are born, live, work, play, worship, and age, affecting their health and quality of life outcomes and risks. The neighborhoods and environment of a community have a significant impact on the health of individuals. Many people in the United States live in areas with unsafe water, unsafe air, toxic chemicals, loud noises, and pollution. 
Lower-income and minority communities tend to live closer to industrial sites and can be exposed to more pollution. Hundreds of industrial facilities are located in Texas where electricity was lost and pipe eruption occurred, it is expected they release pounds of airborne emissions as plants shut down and then resume operations just like after Hurricane Harvey in 2015, which is very harmful to the surrounding communities. As with any disaster, marginalized communities are disproportionately affected. There is a disproportion in death and negative health effects, as seen by COVID-19 and other natural disasters. 
Stephen Lester highlighted earlier this year the inequity in those affected by the COVID-19. African Americans and Latinos are getting vaccinated at much lower rates than at the rate they have been affected. People of color and low-income communities who were also disproportionately affected by blackouts and pipe bursts just last week will now face an even harder journey to recovery. 
While the storm hit families of all races and ethnicities, here is where the social determinants come into play. People of low-income communities often don’t have access to a car or transportation to get groceries, live in food deserts, and may not have money for pipe repairs or insurance to replace damaged housing.  Lower-income families who live farther from densely populated areas, not near hospitals and nursing homes, are the last communities to have their power turned back on, leaving many historically black and brown neighborhoods without power.
CHEJ’s work is crucial in implementing policy change at the local, state, and federal levels to reduce health and safety risks that exist among these communities. By providing communities a voice and role in their environment, they have one less social determinant working against their well-being, creating a safe environment for their families to work and play. 
Photo Credit: Terri Gruca via Twitter

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