Confronting Racism in Environmental Health Sciences: Moving the Science Forward for Eliminating Racial Inequities

Environ Health Perspect. 2021 May;129(5):55002. doi: 10.1289/EHP8186. Epub 2021 May 4.


Background: The twin pandemics of COVID-19 and systemic racism during 2020 have forced a conversation across many segments of our society, including the environmental health sciences (EHS) research community. We have seen the proliferation of statements of solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and commitments to fight racism and health inequities from academia, nonprofit organizations, governmental agencies, and private corporations. Actions must now arise from these promises. As public health and EHS scientists, we must examine the systems that produce and perpetuate inequities in exposure to environmental pollutants and associated health effects.

Objectives: We outline five recommendations the EHS research community can implement to confront racism and move our science forward for eliminating racial inequities in environmental health.

Discussion: Race is best considered a political label that promotes inequality. Thus, we should be wary of equating race with biology. Further, EHS researchers should seriously consider racism as a plausible explanation of racial disparities in health and consider structural racism as a factor in environmental health risk/impact assessments, as well as multiple explanations for racial differences in environmental exposures and health outcomes. Last, the EHS research community should develop metrics to measure racism and a set of guidelines on the use and interpretation of race and ethnicity within the environmental sciences. Numerous guidelines exist in other disciplines that can serve as models. By taking action on each of these recommendations, we can make significant progress toward eliminating racial disparities.

Publication types

  • Research Support, N.I.H., Extramural

MeSH terms

  • COVID-19 / ethnology
  • Environmental Health* / organization & administration
  • Health Status Disparities
  • Humans
  • Racial Groups / statistics & numerical data
  • Racism* / prevention & control