Environmental health should be next
Late Sunday night, the House of Representatives passed a health care overhaul which is widely hailed as ‘Change’ manifest. Next up on the agenda is comprehensive immigration reform, due to a promise that leading Democrats made to secure the votes of Hispanic legislators on the health care vote.
On the opposite side of the mall from racial and homophobic epithet-hurling Tea Partiers (who were repeatedly pandered to by dozens of Republican congressmen), thousands of immigration reform proponents gathered to make sure that immigration reform comes next. But, before our attention is turned away from health care, I want to expand on a point made by The New York Times Editorial staff that was written today: this legislation is just the beginning of what is and should be a long process of health care reform.
While this health care legislation goes a long way in reforming our current system, what it does not do is change one of the roots of the problem: treatment versus prevention. Preventive medicine will not result from this legislation. It should in the next round of health reform. A large part of transforming the system to focus on prevention first will have to deal with growing environmentally-triggered health problems that are especially prevalent among children and the elderly.
Chronic and acute illnesses alike are directly linked to environmental health hazards of air pollution, water pollution, a diet dominated by factory farmed animals that are almost more hormone than protein and a car culture so dominant that people drive down the block instead of walking.
About 15 million people have asthma in the United States, resulting in about 1.5 million emergency department visits, an additional 500,000 hospitalizations and over 5,000 deaths every year. Increased exposure to air pollution, especially in urban environments dominated by cars, has been definitively linked to increasing asthma rates. Urban air pollutants – VOCs, ozone, particulate matter, sulfur dioxide, etc – cause chronic society-wide illness. Argue it however you like – environmental justice, cutting the long-term federal budget, reducing business’ lost work days, making those weekly Saturday soccer games weigh a little less on a parents’ conscious – cracking down on air pollution should be a part of health care reform.
Water pollution is no different. In our own city, Washington, D.C., antiquated lead pipes leech into our water supply, contributing to the high levels of lead found in District children. Similar problems are found in other places – Arsenic in drinking water in the Northeast, heavy metals in mining communities, groundwater contamination with pesticides (which are derivatives of nerve gas) in agricultural areas. Chronic Heart Disease, numerous kinds of cancer, obesity, strokes and many others are also exacerbated by environmental contaminants.
Sunday’s healthcare reform was a great step forward. Let’s not forget that there is still more to do – environmental health legislation could and should play a big role in the next round.
Posted in TechnoLogical