EPA Handing Out Millions in Taxpayer Money to Study Combination of Pollution and ‘Social Stressors’ in Poor Neighborhoods

By Penny Starr | January 13, 2011 | 10:18 AM EST

Lisa Garcia, associate assistant administrator of environmental justice at the EPA, said on Tuesday, Jan. 11, 2011, that the EPA is handing out $7 million in taxpayer grants to study the combined effects of pollution and 'social stressors' on people in poor communities. (CNSNews.com/Penny Starr)

(CNSNews.com) The Environmental Protection Agency is giving scientists at several universities $7 million in grants to study how pollution, in combination with “stress” and other social factors, affects people in “poor and underserved” communities.

At a symposium in Washington on Wednesday, Lisa Garcia, associate assistant administrator of environmental justice at the EPA, said the grant-funded studies “will focus on some of the multiple stressors in communities.”  That includes examining the effects of “chemicals, anxiety, poor nutrition, age, and traffic pollutants on childhood asthma rates,” for example.

“When these stressors are combined, they can lead to a much higher risk of health issues,” the EPA said.

EPA studies generally are confined to single chemical effects, not to combinations of chemicals that people are exposed to outside the lab. And EPA studies rarely address social factors such as poverty and stress “that can play a major role,” the agency said.

The new study will look at a combination of harmful factors affecting human health in poor communities with pollution problems.  As such, the grants “really get to the heart of advancing environmental justice,” Garcia said.

Although the results of the study will not be known for several years, the goal is to use the data to prevent the issuing of permits to industry and other polluting entities in areas that have been identified as "over-burdened," according to panelists at Wednesday’s symposium.

As CNSNews.com has reported, EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson has made environmental justice a top priority for her agency. The EPA defines environmental justice as the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people -- regardless of race, color, national origin, or income -- with respect to the development and enforcement of environmental laws and regulations.

Last year, the EPA made a public commitment to address “disproportionate environmental health impacts,” said Paul Anastas, assistant administrator for EPA’s Office of Research and Development. “This research could pave the way for more interdisciplinary work that is responsive to community concerns and environmental justice.”

The $7 million in grants, to be distributed through 2014, will go to a study, portions of which are being conducted at the following universities, including one in Taiwan:

University of Rochester School of Medicine and Dentistry in New York; University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey; University of Texas School of Public Health; National Chiao-Tung University; University of Texas Anderson Cancer Center; Boston University; University of Texas School of Public Health; University of North Carolina; University of Texas Medical Branch, Galveston; and Harvard School of Public Health, Channing Laboratory.