Environmental Health Laboratories :
A Critical Community Partner in Environmental Justice
By Erin Morin , MHS , associate specialist , Environmental Health
Environmental justice is the impartial development , implementation and enforcement of environmental laws , regulations and policies for all people regardless of race , nationality or socioeconomic status . In the United States , minority and low-income populations are more likely to live near polluted lands , typically underrepresented in biomonitoring and epidemiological studies , and prone to be seriously impacted by environmental hazards . 1 Detection of this pollution is contingent upon quality environmental testing and biomonitoring in the right place at the right time , making environmental health laboratories an integral player to ensure community environmental justice . To improve their practices , public health laboratories can make their procedures more inclusive to a wide range of people . The following examples highlight how public health laboratory
Lucio Barinelli , PhD Water Lab Program Manager , Division of Public Health Services New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services
Sharunda Buchanan , PhD Director , Office of Priority Projects , Innovation and Environmental Justice National Center for Environmental Health / Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
Megan Christian , MPH Office of Science Advisor , Policy and Engagement US EPA Office of Research and Development
Nancy Hall Public Health Microbiologist State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa
Jason Mihalic , MBA Office Chief Arizona Department of Health Services Bureau of Laboratory Services
Michael Schueller , MS Associate Director , Environmental Health Division State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa
Michael Wichman , PhD Former Associate Director , Environmental Health Division State Hygienic Laboratory at the University of Iowa work is integral to protecting the health of underserved populations and communities .
After the 2019 Arsenic Consortium meeting
, by 120 Water , Department of Environmental Services
, the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women , Infants , and Children ( WIC ) and the company 120 Water
partnered to create a five-year program to reduce the exposure of pregnant women on private well water to naturally-occurring arsenic . Due to a lack of statewide private well regulations , there is a 25 % chance that private well arsenic levels will be above the five parts per billion ( ppb ) state drinking water standard . Arsenic exposure in pregnant women can lead to decreased fetal cognitive development and increased infant and child mortality . 2
The program ’ s goal is to reduce arsenic exposure by educating women about unsafe drinking water , sampling their wells , providing filter pitchers to families with > 5 ppb arsenic levels and supporting behavioral change by providing filter resources . The program has started its pilot phase in
Contents of the testing kits provided by 120 Water to participants to test their private wells for elevated arsenic levels . Photo : Lucio Barinelli
Filter provided by 120 Water to participants with arsenic levels above 5ppb . Photo : Lucio Barinelli
two counties and is open to low-income , pregnant women enrolled in the WIC Program using well water as their primary drinking source . Despite a slow start due to the pandemic , the pilot has provided five pregnant women with safer drinking water since October 2020 . Full program implementation is planned for the fall of 2021 in all local WIC offices .
In 2017 , concern over legacy mining pollution in Arizona led community activists to spread awareness and demand state and local government to take action . With the help of the Arizona Department of Health Services ( ADHS ) Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program
, these local activists coordinated their efforts to distribute English-Spanish bilingual messaging about free diagnostic blood lead testing for the affected community . These efforts resulted in 90 blood samples collected and submitted to the ADHS laboratory for blood lead testing by the Chemical Threat Program . With these efforts , lead-poisoned children , once identified , were enrolled in clinical and environmental services .
12 LAB MATTERS Spring 2021