Environmental Justice Story Features Deputy Executive Director Dr. Lisa Patel

Dr. Lisa Patel is the Deputy Executive Director of the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health.

In the article Connecting health, pollution and fairness – that’s environmental justice for the American Heart Association, Michael Merschel includes quotes from an interview conducted with the Consortium’s new Deputy Executive Director, Dr. Lisa Patel. Below is an excerpt:

Where someone lives “profoundly” affects their health, said Dr. Lisa Patel, deputy executive director of the Medical Society Consortium on Climate and Health, which the American Heart Association joined in 2019.

And a neighborhood’s health factors are not shaped by accident. “They are the result of structurally racist policies, like redlining, that make certain areas more susceptible” to pollution, said Patel, who also is a clinical assistant professor of pediatrics at the Stanford School of Medicine in Palo Alto, California.

Examples abound:

– Neighborhoods subjected to redlining in the 1930s have high levels of air pollution today. Redlined neighborhoods, usually where Black, Hispanic or Asian people lived, were deemed financially risky and deprived of investment. Today, redlining maps align closely with maps of the worst air pollution, according to a 2021 study in Environmental Science and Technology Letters. Air pollution – specifically, fine particulate matter such as soot, smoke or dust – has been linked to higher risk of heart attack, stroke and death from heart disease.

– Regardless of income, Black, Hispanic, Asian and other people of color are more likely to be exposed to sources of air pollution, according to a 2021 study in the journal Science Advances. Such disparities have persisted even as such pollution has decreased overall.

– A redlined neighborhood also is less likely to have cooling greenspaces and more likely to have higher heat levels – an average 4.7 degrees Fahrenheit hotter, according to a study published in Climate in 2020.

The Environmental Protection Agency says heat can contribute to heart attacks, strokes and other forms of cardiovascular disease, with low-income people and Black people among those most likely to be affected.

The result of such inequities, Bullard said, is that life expectancy in ZIP codes just a few miles apart can vary widely – by as much as 20 years, according to research at Virginia Commonwealth University.

Patel sees textbook examples in her own part of California. West Oakland, once a thriving Black business area, was isolated by construction of freeways. In the same area, trucks serving the busy port must use Interstate 880, which runs through neighborhoods where most of the residents have low incomes or are Black or Hispanic. But truck traffic is banned on nearby Interstate 580, which runs along wealthier areas.

As a result, Patel said, West Oakland is a place where rates of asthma and cardiovascular disease are “severalfold times higher than families just living a few miles away in the beautiful Oakland hills.”

Climate change will add to environmental justice problems, Patel said. For example, it’s already making wildfires more intense and severe, exposing people to choking smoke. “But what we’ve seen in the last few years play out in the Bay Area is that it is the higher income families that can afford an HVAC system within their home, with filters fitted to be able to take out most of the air pollution.” Lower-income families can’t.