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New ACP Position Paper Addresses Environmental Health

Advocate Masthead

ACP calls for comprehensive action to achieve environmental justice by addressing air pollution, ensuring safe drinking water, and protecting the public from harmful substances

Nov. 4, 2022 (ACP) — As the climate change crisis worsens, the American College of Physicians is doubling down on its environmental advocacy with an updated position paper calling for immediate action to protect the planet and its peoples.

“ACP has previously called attention to the harm that climate change is having on the health of people around the world,” said Dr. Ryan D. Mire, president of ACP. “However, environmental harms are much broader than just climate change. Nearly a quarter of global deaths are caused by modifiable environmental factors. We need to be doing more to prevent those deaths.”

The position paper, published Oct. 25 in the Annals of Internal Medicine, details policy actions that are needed to address the climate crisis and reduce exposure to hazardous substances and air and water pollution. It builds on a 2016 position paper on climate and health that focused on global warming.

“ACP has extensive policy on addressing climate change, but not much on other important environmental health topic areas, like addressing air and water pollution,” said Ryan Crowley, ACP senior associate for health policy. “Considering the current crises, it felt important to view this issue through a justice lens since low-income, racial and ethnic-minority populations are at higher risk. The paper also serves as a reminder that we need to take immediate action to mitigate and adapt to climate change. It's affecting human health now.”

ACP is especially concerned, Crowley said, because environmental factors cause or worsen conditions that internal medicine physicians treat every day. “Patients with asthma or COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] are at higher risk when air quality is bad,” he noted. “Globally, millions die from air pollution annually.”

The paper highlights these messages:

  • Human and planetary health are interconnected, and climate change is a global human and environmental health crisis. ACP calls for immediate action to limit global temperature rise to 1.5 degrees Celsius above preindustrial levels.
  • Comprehensive action is necessary to achieve environmental justice.
  • ACP supports efforts to reduce indoor and outdoor air pollution and affirms support for the Clean Air Act. The Environmental Protection Agency should set robust air quality standards to protect public health and welfare.
  • ACP supports improvements to the Safe Drinking Water Act, Clean Water Act, Lead and Copper Rule and other laws and regulations dedicated to ensuring access to clean, potable, safe water.
  • ACP supports action to protect the public from harmful exposures to toxic substances, including new and existing chemicals, with particular attention to children, pregnant people and other susceptible populations.
    “An important theme in the paper is that “all communities deserve to live, work, learn and play in a safe and healthy environment,” Crowley said. “Unfortunately, all communities aren't treated equally. The Flint, Michigan, water crisis is one example where a low-income, largely Black community was deprived access to safe water. Hazardous waste sites tend to be located in predominantly Black communities.”
  • ACP recommends sustainable and sufficient funding for federal agencies with an environmental health mission.

“Humans cannot be healthy without a healthy place to live,” said Mire. “We need aggressive action to deal with climate change, stronger policies on air pollution, clean water for everyone, and to limit exposures to noxious chemicals and other toxins. The health of all of us depends on it.”

How will the ACP report be useful? “The College intends for the paper to educate lawmakers, physicians and the public that the air we breathe, the water we drink and the toxins we're exposed to can affect human health,” Crowley said.

More Information

The position paper, “Environmental Health: A Position Paper From the American College of Physicians,” is available on the Annals of Internal Medicine website.

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Back to the November 4, 2022 issue of ACP Advocate