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Environmental Health Equity

Environmental Health Equity on NM Tracking

Environmental health equity (EHE) is at the intersection of environmental ethics and public health, with under-resourced communities bearing the burden of higher environmental exposures. The disproportionate contact with environmental pollutants and resulting health effects impact science, society, and health.

The federal government, through the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), keeps track of areas with dangerous waste (like old factories or mines) called Superfund sites and works to get them cleaned up. In New Mexico, there are currently 15 active Superfund sites (see maps). An additional five sites have been cleaned up and are no longer designated as Superfund sites.

Map 1. 15 Superfund sites and Social Vulnerability Index in New Mexico

The maps also show the CDC-based Social Vulnerability Index (SVI) by small area in shades of purple. The darker purple means that there is a higher percentage of people living in that area (compared to other areas) that score higher on the SVI. The SVI combines measures of socioeconomic status, household composition and disability, racial and ethnic minority status and language, housing type and transportation, and healthcare access. Higher scores indicate more vulnerability. Most Superfund sites are in dark purple areas, corresponding to higher SVI or more under-resourced communities. Similarly, zooming in on Bernalillo County shows that the three Superfund sites are all located in under-resourced communities.

Map 2. Superfund sites and Social Vulnerability Index in and around Albuquerque

An example of a current Superfund site, Eagle Picher Carefree Battery, a former electronics and battery manufacturing plant and municipal landfill, in Socorro County was listed as a Superfund site in 2007. The main substances of concern are trichloroethylene (TCE) and 1,4-dioxane, both of which are in the groundwater. According to the International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC), TCE is cancer-causing in humans. The primary cancer associated with TCE exposure is kidney cancer, although there is some evidence for liver cancer, prostate cancer, and breast cancer. IARC classifies 1,4-dioxane as possibly cancer-causing in humans, namely liver and nasal cavity tumors. Concerned community members living in Socorro County have previously contacted the New Mexico Cancer Concerns Workgroup (CCW, a collaboration between NMDOH and NM Tumor Registry) about perceived elevated cancer cases in their community. The CCW found that certain census tracts in Socorro County near the Superfund site had similar incidence rates of cancer (kidney, liver, and all cancers) to the rest of New Mexico. The CCW continues to monitor cancer rates in this community and other communities near Superfund sites. In addition to clean up work done by the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and NM Environment Department (NMED), EPA hosted an informational meeting in the fall of 2021 with NMED, NMDOH, and residents of Socorro to form a Community Advisory Group (CAG). CAGs offer a unique opportunity for communities to voice their concerns and needs related to Superfund site cleanup.

Terms

Environmental Justice

Environmental justice refers to the fair treatment and meaningful opportunities for involvement of all New Mexicans regarding the development and enforcement of environmental laws and regulations.

Health Equity

Health equity means that everyone has a fair and just opportunity to be as healthy as possible. To achieve this, we must remove obstacles to health -- such as poverty, discrimination, and deep power imbalances -- and their consequences, including lack of access to good jobs with fair pay, quality education and housing, safe environments and health care.

Racism

Racism is the systemic oppression of a racial group to the social, economic, and political advantage of another.

Social Determinants of Health

Social determinants of health refer to the underlying community-wide social, economic, and physical conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work, and age. They affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality-of-life outcomes and risks. These determinants and their unequal distribution according to social position result in differences in health status between population groups that are avoidable and unfair.

Tribal Sovereignty

Tribal sovereignty ensures that New Mexico's 23 Tribes, Pueblos, and Nations enjoy a significant degree of independence and self-determination in their decision-making and governance over: their own laws and policies; interaction with federal, state, and local government; engagement in business, commercial, and governmental activities; and administering a wide range of public services - law enforcement, housing, social services, elder care, environmental protection, and health and safety programs. Tribal sovereignty also helps to preserve and protect their unique cultural heritage.