The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) defines environmental justice as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, culture, national origin, income, and educational levels with respect to protective environmental laws, regulations, and policies.
No group of people should bear a disproportionate share of the negative environmental consequences resulting from industrial, governmental, and commercial operations or policies.
Communities will achieve environmental justice when everyone has:
- The same amount of protection from environmental and health hazards.
- Equal access to a healthy environment in which to live, learn, and work.
Social determinants of health
Environmental factors such as air and water quality are key in determining human health and well-being. Exposures to some chemicals in the air or water can lead to disease wherever people are, but especially when the places where people live, work, learn, and play are subject to social inequities.
These social inequities, often referred to as social determinants of health, include differences in individual behaviors, sociocultural influences, access to health services, economic status, and literacy levels. Environmental health disparities exist when communities exposed to a combination of poor environmental quality and social inequities have more sickness and disease than wealthier, less polluted communities.
In the United States, people of color, low-income communities, and tribal populations are more often exposed to environmental conditions that can harm their health. For example, commercial hazardous waste facilities are more frequently located in communities with more racial and ethnic minorities. These residents often suffer adverse health effects from pollution to a greater extent than the general population.
Efforts to address the needs of vulnerable populations include decreasing environmental burdens, increasing environmental benefits, and working collaboratively to build healthy, sustainable communities by integrating environmental justice considerations.
Federal, state, local, and tribal governments and their partners provide financial and technical assistance to communities working to achieve protection from environmental and health hazards for all people regardless of race, color, national origin, or income.