Doctors demand justice over environmental health impacts

The human health consequences of air and water pollution, as well as climate impacts such as increased heat, disproportionately affect low-income populations and people of color. This has led to a new call for justice on environmental health issues from the American College of Physicians (ACP).

In a new position paper, published Tuesday in Annals of Internal Medicine ACP calls on healthcare professionals to take the lead on the impacts of climate change affecting the health of vulnerable communities, leading to increased risks of asthma, cancer, stroke and other conditions.

Among them is exposure to harmful levels of air pollution, which affects 40% of the US population. But it is racial and ethnic minorities who are exposed to higher levels of certain pollutants, such as particulate matter and ground-level ozone, compared to whites.

“Discriminatory housing and planning policies have segregated people of color and those of low socioeconomic status into areas with high environmental risk factors,” the ACP document explains.

As another example, people who live in communities historically subject to red lines (policies that restricted people of color to certain geographic neighborhoods) are at higher risk of urban heat island effects. This is the case in cities like Richmond, Virginia, where these communities have fewer trees, more paved surfaces and therefore higher afternoon temperatures.


Pregnant women and children are more vulnerable to environmental pollution

Unsafe drinking water, as well as lead contamination of water and paint in older homes, also disproportionately affects these underserved communities. In Chicago, the third largest city in the United States, nearly 400,000 lead water pipes are still in use.

“Environmental hazards affect different populations in different ways,” the ACP document states. “The elderly, pregnant women and children may be particularly vulnerable to environmental contamination. Outdoor workers are at higher risk for heat-related illnesses.

While the CPA paper articulates a number of policy recommendations, some of which are amplified or reiterated from a similar position paper from 2016, it calls on the medical profession to change its own practices as well, in order to protect patients. vulnerable patients and to fight against global warming. Limitless. Paris Agreement 1.5°C level.

“Climate change and health content should be incorporated into continuing medical education in internal medicine and into medical school and residency programs,” the professional organization said. “Physicians are encouraged to inform their community and decision-makers about the health effects of climate change.”

The effort should also include working with public health agencies and communities to monitor environmental threats to health and promote both prevention and adaptation to climate impacts.

Health Sector Emissions

In the United States, the healthcare sector is responsible for 8.6% of total greenhouse gas emissions. In the UK, a study by the National Health Service found that the majority of emissions were related to the supply chain (62% of the total footprint), while direct care provision accounted for 24%.

“Hospitals and other facilities should take action to reduce supply chain emissions and waste and promote preventive care,” the CPA said.

However, as a general value, the CPA insists that all measures aimed at limiting the health impacts of climate change must keep environmental justice at the center of attention. The same principle applies beyond the borders of the United States.

“Countries with historically high greenhouse gas emissions, including the United States, should provide financial assistance to developing countries vulnerable to climate change for adaptation and mitigation activities,” said the ACP.

By Lauren Fagan Articles in English

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