health and the particular challenges facing environmental health sciences research in terms of both data and resources. The committee describes the current state of the research in environmental justice, discusses the research methodologies that best serve the communities of concern, and makes recommendations to improve current efforts to respond to environmental justice concerns.
Public health research on environmental justice issues incorporates two tasks: (1) assessment of the health status of the community and (2) determination of the contributions of specific environmental factors to that status. The public health community has developed a great deal of experience and competence in assessing the health status of the population. However, assessment of the health of racial or ethnic minorities, or low-income subpopulations in support of environmental justice poses difficult challenges because both the numbers of individuals and the incidence of disease may be quite small. Even greater challenges are posed by the second task—determination of the contributions of specific environmental factors. These challenges include documentation of excessive exposures, including their strengths and pathways; assessment of the susceptibilities of the communities of concern to environmental hazards; and measurement of the health effects of exposure, including the contribution of a specific hazard relative to the contributions of a variety of other potential factors. These analyses are also complicated by the problem of small numbers. The following section explores these environmental research challenges, with a strong emphasis throughout on the need for substantial involvement of the affected communities.
A variety of sources of data might be useful for a public health assessment of a suspected environmental justice problem. The Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) Inventory of Exposure-Related Data Systems Sponsored by Federal Agencies (Environmental Protection Agency, 1992) lists 67 databases used by federal agencies to fulfill their responsibilities for research, regulation, and risk communication on environmental health issues (Environmental Protection Agency, 1992). The databases are managed by 17 federal agencies, the United Nations Environment Program, and the World Health Organization.
In addition, a number of private-sector databases focus on environmental health. Regulatory support is provided by 19 systems, and 29 systems focus on research. Twelve separate federal departments and agencies collect data relevant to the issue of environmental justice (see Table 3-1). Each has its own mandate and collects the data that meet its specific needs. Because the data are frequently received from local and state computer databases and are largely developed