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Theory addressing environmental issues has been situated in the social constructionist and political economy approaches. Within these approaches, attention has been paid to developments of subfields in social science research, such as social movements and the environment, environmental health, and environmental justice.
Coinciding with these revelations, other studies were being conducted that attempted to link other contaminated sites with adverse health effects. As Gots (1993) stated, most were laboratory studies in simulated environments. Examples of human studies existed only in the sociological and epidemiological literature (Brown & Mikkelsen, 1990; Gibbs, 1982; Landrigan, 1990; Neutra et al., 1991). Incidences of chemical scares were also prevalent. Headlines concerning the dioxin scare at Times Beach, Missouri; contamination of apple crops with the synthetic growth regulator Alar; and use of Agent Orange created the fear that human-made chemicals cause disease. Evidence existed that these specific chemicals may cause health problems in humans, but data on the incidence of illness relative to exposure and on synergistic effects of these chemicals were missing. Furthermore, there was even less information available about other potential threats to health, such as airborne and waterborne contaminants, environmental sensitivity disorders, and living in proximity to hazardous waste sites. To establish a causal relationship between exposure and chemicals, obtaining valid measures and estimates for exposure is essential.
The uncertainty of science had created cross-discipline dialogue. Social scientists have addressed environmental issues in studies of risk assessment, disaster relief (both natural and technological), toxic exposure, and other data-driven areas. Because of the risk of chemical exposure due to toxic waste, landfills emerged as one of the most imminent public health threats with the discovery of Love Canal. However, even in cases where studies to show an association between illness and exposure to toxic chemicals have been inconclusive, the message has been that these chemicals cause cancer and needed to be eradicated.
Armstrong BA. 2004. Exposure measurement error: consequences and design issues. In: Exposure Assessment in Occupational and Environmental Epidemiology (Nieuwenhuijsen MJ, ed.). Oxford, UK:Oxford University Press, 181–200.
Politically, momentum began to shift back toward the wise-use movement throughout the 1980s. Environmental problems were framed in opposition to capitalist goals. Politicians took an either/or stance: jobs or the environment. With one’s economic livelihood seemingly at stake, it is no wonder that concern for the environment was diminished in the public agenda. The environmental health movement is arguably one area that continued to keep environmental issues in the public’s consciousness. One of the classic and influential cases in environmental organizing, Love Canal, illustrates the interconnectedness of politics, science, and the environment.
With the increase in studies in this area, the public has been partially reassured by having the knowledge that at least concerns are being recognized. Specifically, cancer rates are still high, but the fear of human-made chemicals has largely been dispelled. Most recently, the organic food movement has been gaining legitimacy. Yet, many still doubt the health benefits behind this movement. Studies concerning environmental racism have been more prevalent, focusing on the incidence of lower-income, nonwhite families living near toxic waste sites. This focus has taken attention away from specific health problems. Instead, the focus has been on issues of political economy and equity. This is not a criticism of environmental justice but rather a call for the convergence of natural science and sociology in order to address both issues. Other variables to be considered in these studies may include racial composition of counties, social class of counties, concentration of low-income occupations in counties, new housing starts in counties, and the percentage of welfare recipients per county.
The European Commission is carrying out an impact assessment as a preliminary step before deciding among the four options. Impact assessment studies provide an assessment of the potential economic, social and environmental impacts of alternative policy options. They would make sense if policy options were currently examined (e.g., between hazard-based regulation of pesticides or risk-based regulation), or after the implementation of a policy to judge its results. Here the relevant regulations (PPPR, BPR, REACH laws) have already been enacted but not applied as far as EDs are concerned.
To understand the factors contributing to the emergence, awareness, and mobilization around environmental problems, the scope and focus of the problem must be considered. This analysis focuses on the emergence of and mobilization around toxic waste sites found in residential communities. Literature addressing toxic waste sites in communities place Love Canal, New York, as the first community to encounter such a problem that received national media attention. Although community protests were occurring around the toxics issue as early as 1970, no other site received the same degree of national media attention (Szasz, 1994).
In regard to the increased dissemination of information concerning the importance of conserving our environments, companies have tried to create an impression to the people that the organizations are doing more to the environment than what they really are doing in reality, and this is referred to as green washing....
The problems of environmental contamination were first addressed publicly in Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring (1962). Her warning of chemical contaminants silencing biological life was not heeded at the time her book was published. These issues were not addressed until the 1970s with the first Earth Day in 1970, followed by the passing of numerous pieces of environmental protection legislation and the creation of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Through this period of uncertainty, unclear scientific findings overwhelmed policymakers and the public, leading to confusion about how to develop environmental policies and actions.
In addition to physical environmental realities that production processes cause, issues of health and economic injustice exist. Bryant and Mohai (1992) asked whether a safe environment is a civil right. They argue that people of color see environmental degradation interrelated with economic and political justice. This is the fundamental idea behind environmental justice in both action and theory. Another issue in environmental justice arises because people of color and lower income are less likely to have access to health insurance; thus, they become more ill if exposed to environmental hazards without means of treatment. Therefore, these populations share more of the negative environmental burden and have fewer resources to resolve the given problems.