Environmental Injustice is a Reproductive Justice Issue

Apr 19, 2024 | Enviromental Justice, Healthcare, News

Environmental and reproductive justice are not separate issues but deeply intertwined aspects of our collective well-being. Both environmental and reproductive justice are grounded in a belief that all families deserve the right and access to healthy, safe, and supportive communities. North Carolina faces ongoing environmental challenges that disproportionately harm Black, low-income, and rural communities, specifically those in the eastern part of the state. The increase in hog farms, air pollution from toxic chemicals, and contaminated water from PFAs and toxic metals across the state have sparked widespread advocacy and action driven by community members and organizations. However, we are not just discussing environmental injustice when considering these challenges. These environmental challenges directly impact the health and well-being of families in these communities, specifically Black birthing people.

Ongoing research efforts have linked chronic exposure to environmental contaminants during pregnancy to adverse birth outcomes, such as congenital disorders, preterm birth, low birth weight, and, in more severe cases, fetal death. The health implications from environmental exposures extend beyond pregnancy, affecting the health and development of children across the life course. For instance, children who live in these communities are at higher risk for everyday health problems, such as cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders, and respiratory disease. In addition to adverse effects on physical health, research suggests that exposure to environmental contaminants can lead to psychiatric disorders, such as depression, anxiety, and learning disabilities.

Inadequate environmental practices and policies also exacerbate the reproductive harm on Black birthing people and their children by shaping the resources and services that a community has access to. Eastern North Carolina communities face disproportionate environmental degradation and limited access to affordable, quality healthcare services, including family planning and providers, further exacerbating health concerns. In addition to the ongoing environmental challenges that communities in North Carolina face, birthing people in the state have a high vulnerability to poor birth outcomes and are most vulnerable due to socioeconomic determinants of health. Unsurprisingly, the communities most impacted by environmental degradation are the same communities experiencing the worst birth outcomes.

Various organizations across North Carolina are tackling environmental issues right in their backyard by filling the gaps in resources and information and advocating for environmental policies that are equitable, eco-friendly, and sustainable. However, these two movements are not separate and distinct issues. The parallels between the ongoing environmental injustices that Black and rural communities face and the attacks on the reproductive rights and freedom of Black women reinforce the need to combine solidarity actions for both environmental and reproductive justice. Through collaborative efforts, we can only create a future where all communities thrive in a healthy and sustainable environment.

Verdant Julius

Verdant Julius

Environmental Health Fellow

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