EUROPEAN JOURNAL OF ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC HEALTH
Research Article

COVID-19 and Environmental Racism: Challenges and Recommendations

European Journal of Environment and Public Health, 2021, 5(2), em0079, https://doi.org/10.21601/ejeph/10999
Full Text (PDF)

ABSTRACT

COVID-19, the pandemic of highly contagious respiratory disease, presents a global public health emergency.  Racial and ethnic minority groups in the USA are more likely to contract, be hospitalized with, and die from COVID-19 versus whites, highlighting glaring health disparities.   Injustices such as the persistent issue of police brutality against Blacks in the USA, along with the racial disparities and inequities underscored by the COVID-19 pandemic, have brought renewed global focus to issues of social justice in the USA. Moreover, there is a need to examine how environmental racism intensifies the COVID-19 pandemic and illuminates racial inequities in exposure to environmental pollutants.  This article describes environmental racism and its impact on people of color in the USA, critically examines how this practice elevates disease risk among racial and ethnic minorities already susceptible to COVID-19, and proposes recommendations to tackle this pervasive issue.

KEYWORDS

Coronavirus COVID-19 health disparities racism environmental health social determinants of health

CITATION (Harvard)

Njoku, A. U. (2021). COVID-19 and Environmental Racism: Challenges and Recommendations. European Journal of Environment and Public Health, 5(2), em0079. https://doi.org/10.21601/ejeph/10999
APA
Njoku, A. U. (2021). COVID-19 and Environmental Racism: Challenges and Recommendations. European Journal of Environment and Public Health, 5(2), em0079. https://doi.org/10.21601/ejeph/10999
Vancouver
Njoku AU. COVID-19 and Environmental Racism: Challenges and Recommendations. EUROPEAN J ENV PUBLI. 2021;5(2):em0079. https://doi.org/10.21601/ejeph/10999
AMA
Njoku AU. COVID-19 and Environmental Racism: Challenges and Recommendations. EUROPEAN J ENV PUBLI. 2021;5(2), em0079. https://doi.org/10.21601/ejeph/10999
Chicago
Njoku, Anuli U.. "COVID-19 and Environmental Racism: Challenges and Recommendations". European Journal of Environment and Public Health 2021 5 no. 2 (2021): em0079. https://doi.org/10.21601/ejeph/10999
MLA
Njoku, Anuli U. "COVID-19 and Environmental Racism: Challenges and Recommendations". European Journal of Environment and Public Health, vol. 5, no. 2, 2021, em0079. https://doi.org/10.21601/ejeph/10999

REFERENCES

  1. Aelion, C. M., Davis, H. T., Lawson, A. B., Cai, B. and McDermott, S. (2013). Associations between soil lead concentrations and populations by race/ethnicity and income-to-poverty ratio in urban and rural areas. Environmental Geochemistry and Health, 35(1), 1-12.
  2. Ameh, G. G., Njoku, A., Inungu, J. and Younis, M. (2020). Rural America and Coronavirus Epidemic: Challenges and solutions. European Journal of Environment and Public Health, 4(2), em0040. https://doi.org/10.29333/ejeph/8200
  3. Aurand A., Emmanuel, D., Threet, D., Rafi, I. and Yentel, D. (2021). The Gap: A shortage of affordable homes. Washington: National Low Income Housing Coalition. Available at: https://reports.nlihc.org/sites/default/files/gap/Gap-Report_2021.pdf (Accessed: 20 May 2021).
  4. Aurand A., Emmanuel, D., Threet, D., Rafi, I. and Yentel, D. (2020). Out of reach: The high cost of housing. Washington: National Low Income Housing Coalition. Available at: https://reports.nlihc.org/sites/default/files/oor/OOR_2020.pdf (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  5. Batista, A. (2019). Local policies for environmental justice: A national scan. Available at: https://www.nrdc.org/sites/default/files/local-policies-environmental-justice-national-scan-tishman-201902.pdf (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  6. Belanger, M. J., Hill, M. A., Angelidi, A. M., Dalamaga, M., Sowers, J. R. and Mantzoros, C. S. (2020). Covid-19 and disparities in nutrition and obesity. New England Journal of Medicine, 383(11), e69. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMp2021264
  7. Bergstrom, C. (2020). COVID-19 recovery must include environmental justice. Available at: https://thebridge.agu.org/2020/08/21/covid-19-recovery-must-include-environmental-justice/ (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  8. Bucknor, C. (2016). Hispanic workers in the United States (No. 2016-19). Center for Economic and Policy Research (CEPR). Available at: https://cepr.net/images/stories/reports/hispanic-workers-2016-11.pdf (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  9. Bullard, R. (1993). The threat of environmental racism. Natural Resources & Environment, 7(3), 23-56. Available at: http://www.jstor.org/stable/40923229 (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  10. Bullard, R. D. (1994). Overcoming racism in environmental decision making. Environment: Science and Policy for Sustainable Development, 36(4), 10-44. https://doi.org/10.1080/00139157.1994.9929997
  11. Cassidy-Bushrow, A. E., Sitarik, A. R., Havstad, S., Park, S. K., Bielak, L. F., Austin, C., Johnson, C. C. and Arora, M. (2017). Burden of higher lead exposure in African Americans starts in utero and persists into childhood. Environment International, 108, 221-227. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.envint.2017.08.021
  12. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021a, March 8). How to protect yourself and others. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/prevent-getting-sick/prevention.html (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  13. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021b, May 13). People with certain medical conditions. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/need-extra-precautions/groups-at-higher-risk.html (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  14. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021c, May 26). COVID-19 Hospitalization and Death by Race/Ethnicity. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/covid-data/investigations-discovery/hospitalization-death-by-race-ethnicity.html (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  15. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021d, April 19). Health equity considerations and racial and ethnic minority groups. Available at: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/community/health-equity/race-ethnicity.html?CDC_AA_refVal=https%3A%2F%2Fwww.cdc.gov%2Fcoronavirus%2F2019-ncov%2Fneed-extra-precautions%2Fracial-ethnic-minorities.html (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  16. Chavis Jr, B. F. (1993). ‘Foreword’, in Bullard, R. (ed.) Confronting environmental racism: Voice from the grassroots. Boston: South End Press, p. 3.
  17. Clark, A. (2018). The poisoned city: Flint’s water and the American urban tragedy. Metropolitan Books.
  18. Cohn, D. V. and Passel, J. S. (2018). Record 64 million Americans live in multigenerational households. Washington, DC: Pew Research Center. https://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2018/04/05/a-record-64-million-americans-live-in-multigenerational-households/ (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  19. Council on Education for Public Health. (2020). CEPH trends 2020. Available at: https://ceph.org/trends2020/ (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  20. Council on Education for Public Health. (2020). CEPH trends 2020. MPH curriculum. Available at: https://media.ceph.org/documents/MPH_Curriculum_Design.pdf (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  21. Cutter, S. L. (1995). Race, class, and environmental justice. Progress in Human Geography, 19(1), 111-122. https://doi.org/10.1177/030913259501900111
  22. Denchak, M. (2018). Flint water crisis: Everything you need to know. National Resource Defense Council. Available at: https://www.nrdc.org/stories/flint-water-crisis-everything-you-need-know (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  23. Dongarwar, D., Ajewole, V. B., Oduguwa, E., Ngujede, A., Harris, K., Ofili, T. U., Olaleye, O. A. and Salihu, H. M. (2020). Role of Social Determinants of Health in Widening Maternal and Child Health Disparities in the Era of Covid-19 Pandemic. International journal of MCH and AIDS, 9(3), 316-319. https://doi.org/10.21106/ijma.398
  24. Egede, L. E., & Walker, R. J. (2020). Structural racism, social risk factors, and Covid-19—A dangerous convergence for Black Americans. New England Journal of Medicine, 383(12), e77. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMp2023616
  25. Environmental Protection Agency. (n.d.). Environmental justice. Available at: https://www.epa.gov/environmentaljustice (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  26. Frye, J. (2020, April 23). On the frontlines at work and at home: The Disproportionate economic effects of the Coronavirus pandemic on women of color. Available at: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/women/reports/2020/04/23/483846/frontlines-work-home/ (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  27. Gould, E. and Shierholz, H. (2020, March 19). Not everybody can work from home: Black and Hispanic workers are much less likely to be able to telework. Available at: https://www.epi.org/blog/black-and-hispanic-workers-are-much-less-likely-to-be-able-to-work-from-home/ (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  28. Gould, E. and Wilson, V. (2020, June 1). Black workers face two of the most lethal preexisting conditions for coronavirus—racism and economic inequality. Available at: https://www.epi.org/publication/black-workers-covid/ (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  29. Hooper, M. W., Nápoles, A. M., & Pérez-Stable, E. J. (2020). COVID-19 and Racial/Ethnic Disparities. JAMA, 323(24), 2466-2467. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2020.8598
  30. Kaplan, J. and Hardy, B. (2020, May 8). Early data shows Black people are being disproportionally arrested for social distancing violations. Available at: https://www.propublica.org/article/in-some-of-ohios-most-populous-areas-black-people-were-at-least-4-times-as-likely-to-be-charged-with-stay-at-home-violations-as-whites (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  31. Kelly, C. and Reta, M. (2020, October 8). Building equitable, healthy, and climate change-ready communities in the wake of COVID-19. Available at: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/reports/2020/10/08/491371/building-equitable-healthy-climate-change-ready-communities-wake-covid-19/ (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  32. Kelly, C., Martinez, C. and Hathaway-Williams, W. (2017, September 28). A framework for local action on climate change. Available at: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/green/reports/2017/09/28/439712/framework-local-action-climate-change/ (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  33. Lake, J. (2020, October 30). The pandemic has exacerbated housing instability for renters of color. Available at: https://www.americanprogress.org/issues/poverty/reports/2020/10/30/492606/pandemic-exacerbated-housing-instability-renters-color/ (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  34. Lanphear, B. P., Byrd, R. S., Auinger, P. and Schaffer, S. J. (1998). Community characteristics associated with elevated blood lead levels in children. Pediatrics, 101(2), 264-271. https://doi.org/10.1542/peds.101.2.264
  35. Liu, Y., Finch, B. K., Brenneke, S. G., Thomas, K. and Le, P. D. (2020). Perceived discrimination and mental distress amid the COVID-19 pandemic: Evidence from the Understanding America Study. American Journal of Preventive Medicine, 59(4), 481-492. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.amepre.2020.06.007
  36. Lundberg, I. and Donnelly, L. (2019). A Research note on the prevalence of housing eviction among children Born in U.S. Cities. Demography, 56(1), 391-404. https://doi.org/10.1007/s13524-018-0735-y
  37. McClure, E. S., Vasudevan, P., Bailey, Z., Patel, S. and Robinson, W. R. (2020). Racial capitalism within public health—how occupational settings drive COVID-19 disparities. American journal of epidemiology, 189(11), 1244-1253. https://doi.org/10.1093/aje/kwaa126
  38. McLaren, J. (2020). Racial Disparity in COVID-19 Deaths: Seeking Economic Roots with Census data (No. w27407). National Bureau of Economic Research. https://doi.org/10.3386/w27407
  39. National Homelessness Law Center. (2020). Racism, homelessness, and COVID-19. Available at: https://nlchp.org/wp-content/uploads/2020/05/Racism-Homelessness-and-COVID-19-Fact-Sheet-_Final_2.pdf (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  40. National Institute of Environmental Health and Sciences. (n.d.). Air Pollution and Your Health. Available at: https://www.niehs.nih.gov/health/topics/agents/air-pollution/index.cfm (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  41. Njoku, A. (2018). Teaching health disparities awareness in undergraduate public health courses. International Journal for the Scholarship of Teaching and Learning, 12(2): Article 15. https://doi.org/10.20429/ijsotl.2018.120215
  42. Njoku, A. (2019). Effect of online courses on US college students’ knowledge about health disparities. Health Education Journal, 78(5), 510-523. https://doi.org/10.1177/0017896918823226
  43. Njoku, A., Ahmed, Y. and Bolaji, B. (2020). Police brutality against Blacks in the United States and ensuing protests: Implications for social distancing and Black health during COVID-19. Journal of Human Behavior in the Social Environment, 1-9. https://doi.org/10.1080/10911359.2020.1822251
  44. Novacek, D. M., Hampton-Anderson, J. N., Ebor, M. T., Loeb, T. B. and Wyatt, G. E. (2020). Mental health ramifications of the COVID-19 pandemic for Black Americans: Clinical and research recommendations. Psychological Trauma: Theory, Research, Practice, and Policy. https://doi.org/10.1037/tra0000796
  45. Nussbaum, M. M. (2013). Embedding issues of environmental justice in the mainstream curriculum. Environmental Justice, 6(1), 34-40. https://doi.org/10.1089/env.2012.0038
  46. Pasley, J. (2020, April 9). Inside Louisiana’s horrifying ‘Cancer Alley,’ an 85-mile stretch of pollution and environmental racism that’s now dealing with some of the highest coronavirus death rates in the country. Available at: https://www.businessinsider.com/louisiana-cancer-alley-photos-oil-refineries-chemicals-pollution-2019-11 (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  47. Richmond, M. E. (2014). Protection of underserved communities from adverse effects of air pollution: Is the present federal regulatory system effective? Race, Gender & Class, 7-18. https://www.jstor.org/stable/43496955
  48. Rouhandeh, A. (2020, June 21). Social distancing, racism, and protecting people in a pandemic without the police. Available at: https://prospect.org/coronavirus/social-distancing-racism-protecting-people-without-police/ (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  49. Ruiz, D., Becerra, M., Jagai, J. S., Ard, K. and Sargis, R. M. (2018). Disparities in environmental exposures to endocrine-disrupting chemicals and diabetes risk in vulnerable populations. Diabetes Care, 41(1), 193-205. https://doi.org/10.2337/dc16-2765
  50. Salas, R. N., Shultz, J. M. and Solomon, C. G. (2020). The climate crisis and COVID-19—a major threat to the pandemic response. New England Journal of Medicine, 383(11), e70. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMp2022011
  51. Sampson, R. J. and Winter, A. S. (2016). The racial ecology of lead poisoning: Toxic inequality in Chicago neighborhoods, 1995-2013. Du Bois Review: Social Science Research on Race, 13(2), 261-283. https://doi.org/10.1017/S1742058X16000151
  52. Semega, J., Kollar, M., Shrider, E.A. and and Creame, J.F. (2020). Income and Poverty in the United States: 2019. Washington: U.S. Census Bureau. Available at: https://www.census.gov/content/dam/Census/library/publications/2020/demo/p60-270.pdf (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  53. Sohrabi, C., Alsafi, Z., O’Neill, N., Khan, M., Kerwan, A., Al-Jabir, A., Iosifidis, C. and Agha, R. (2020). World Health Organization declares global emergency: A review of the 2019 Novel Coronavirus (COVID-19). International Journal of Surgery (London, England), 76, 71-76. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ijsu.2020.02.034
  54. Solar, O. and Irwin, A. (2010). A conceptual framework for action on the social determinants of health. WHO Document Production Services. Available at: https://www.who.int/sdhconference/resources/ConceptualframeworkforactiononSDH_eng.pdf . (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  55. Tolbert, J (2020). What issues will uninsured people face with testing and treatment for COVID-19? The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Available at: https://www.kff.org/uninsured/fact-sheet/what-issues-will-uninsured-people-face-with-testing-and-treatment-for-covid-19/ (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  56. U.S. Department of Agriculture. (n.d.). Food security in the U.S. Available at: https://www.ers.usda.gov/topics/food-nutrition-assistance/food-security-in-the-us/key-statistics-graphics.aspx (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  57. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. (2020). Social determinants of health. Available at: https://www.healthypeople.gov/2020/topics-objectives/topic/social-determinants-of-health (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  58. United Nations. (n.d.). What are environmental rights? Available at: https://www.unenvironment.org/explore-topics/environmental-rights-and-governance/what-we-do/advancing-environmental-rights/what (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  59. USA Facts. (2021, May 26). Michigan Coronavirus Cases and Deaths. Available at: https://usafacts.org/visualizations/coronavirus-covid-19-spread-map/state/michigan (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  60. Washington, H. A. (2020a). How environmental racism is fuelling the coronavirus pandemic. Nature, 241-241. https://doi.org/10.1038/d41586-020-01453-y
  61. Washington, H. A. (2020b). Healing a Poisoned World. Available at: https://www.aft.org/hc/fall2020/washington (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  62. Washington, R. O. and Strong, D. (1997). A model for teaching environmental justice in a planning curriculum. Journal of Planning Education and Research, 16(4), 280-290. https://doi.org/10.1177/0739456X9701600404
  63. Watts, N., Amann, M., Arnell, N., Ayeb-Karlsson, S., Beagley, J., Belesova, K., ... and Costello, A. (2020). The 2020 report of The Lancet Countdown on health and climate change: responding to converging crises. The Lancet. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0140-6736(20)32290-X
  64. World Health Organization. (2013). Closing the health equity gap: Policy options and opportunities for action. Available at: https://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/handle/10665/78335/9789241505178_eng.pdf;jsessionid=85C111FD861E02760C27FC65BD24BDCF?sequence=1 (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  65. World Health Organization. (2018a). Social determinants of health. Available at: http://www.who.int/social_determinants/sdh_definition/en/ (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  66. World Health Organization. (2018b). Equity. Available at: http://www.who.int/healthsystems/topics/equity/en/ (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  67. World Health Organization. (2019, August 23). Lead poisoning and health. Available at: https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/lead-poisoning-and-health (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  68. World Health Organization. (2021). Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) Weekly Epidemiological Update and Weekly Operational Update. Available at: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019/situation-reports (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  69. Wu, X., Nethery, R. C., Sabath, M. B., Braun, D. and Dominici, F. (2020). Air pollution and COVID-19 mortality in the United States: Strengths and limitations of an ecological regression analysis. Science Advances, 6(45), eabd4049. https://doi.org/10.1126/sciadv.abd4049
  70. Yaghoobi, B., Taiwo, T.K. and Lein, P. (2020, September 2). Going viral: COVID-19, environmental injustice & institutionalised racism. Available at: https://www.openaccessgovernment.org/going-viral-covid-19-environmental-injustice-institutionalised-racism/93724/ (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  71. Younes, L. and Sneath, S. (2020, September 11). New research shows disproportionate rate of Coronavirus deaths in polluted areas. Available at: https://www.propublica.org/article/new-research-shows-disproportionate-rate-of-coronavirus-deaths-in-polluted-areas (Accessed: 27 May 2021).
  72. Young, B. E., Ong, S., Kalimuddin, S., Low, J. G., et al. (2020). Epidemiologic features and clinical course of patients infected with SARS-CoV-2 in Singapore. JAMA, 323(15), 1488-1494. https://doi.org/10.1001/jama.2020.3204
  73. Zhu, N., Zhang, D., Wang, W., Li, X., et al. (2020). A novel Coronavirus from patients with pneumonia in China, 2019. The New England Journal of Medicine, 382(8), 727-733. https://doi.org/10.1056/NEJMoa2001017

LICENSE

Creative Commons License
This is an open access article distributed under the Creative Commons Attribution License which permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited.