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Amplifying Momentum Among the Health Sector for Environmental Justice & Climate Action

On June 10, 2024, the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments partnered with the Mid-Atlantic Center for Children’s Health and the Environment to hold “Amplifying Momentum Among the Health Sector for Environmental Justice & Climate Action” at the Inn at Villanova. With an attendance of over 60 health professionals and students, the conference aimed to educate the audience on the intersection of the environment and health through the insights of health professionals, activists, community leaders, and policy influencers. Beginning with a keynote address from Poune Saberi, MD, MPH (Assistant Professor, University of Pennsylvania), attendees were provided with a practical understanding of the intersection between health and the environment, particularly climate change.

The first panel of the day focused on environmental justice and featured presentations from Steve Luxton (Executive Director, Energy Coordinating Agency), Daniel J. Smith, Ph.D., AGPCNP-BC, CNE (Assistant Professor, Villanova University M. Louise Fitzpatrick College of Nursing), and Kate Hoffer, CRNP, DNP, FNP-C (Nurse Practitioner, LCH Health and Community Services). This panel provided a look into real-world environmental injustices that panelists have seen on the ground in their communities and throughout their careers. These insights immediately served to ground the intersection of health and the environment in a reality which has historically been overlooked, highlighting the importance of health professional awareness and need for action.

The second panel, featuring Peter Buck (Co-Director of Penn State’s Local Climate Action Program; Chair of the Centre County Intergovernmental Solar Power Purchase Agreement Working Group), Flora Cardoni (Field Director, PennEnvironment; Member, Pennsylvania’s Climate Change Advisory Committee), and Penny Dryden (Executive Director, Community Housing and Empowerment Connections) gave focus to policy initiatives impacting environmental health, with particular emphasis on the Inflation Reduction Act (IRA). The IRA was signed into law in 2022 and outlines historic investments in clean energy and climate action. The IRA intends to push the United States towards meeting its climate goals and strengthen energy security, investing in good-paying jobs, and reducing energy and health care costs for families. The speakers explained the steps they and their institutions have taken to bolster the investments from the IRA, highlighting the importance of citizen, corporation, and government action alike to effectively fight the climate crisis.

 The third panel, featuring Erin Kitt-Lewis, PhD, RN (Associate Research Professor, Penn State Ross and Carol Nese College of Nursing), Sarah Bucic, MSN, RN, PMHCNS-BC (Policy Consultant with the Alliance of Nurses for Healthy Environments), and Monica Harmon, MSN, MPH, RN (Assistant Clinical Professor, Drexel University College of Nursing and Health Professions; Executive Director, CNHP Community Wellness HUB; CNHP Services Director, Stephen and Sandra Sheller 11th Street Family Health Services), gave focus to the nuances of how the environment impacts public health along with what actions health professionals can take to address this impact. The speakers’ insights worked to specifically emphasize the role of nurses in addressing this impact, as well as the power they hold due to their ground-level experiences with the intersection of environment and health. Rather it be policy action, education, or community mobilization, the panel served as an empowering reminder that nurses and other health professionals play a massive role and possess the ability to make a change.

The day ended with a screening of Trash and Burn, a documentary by award-winning filmmaker Bilal Motley on the continued use of the Covanta Incinerator in Chester, Pennsylvania and the adverse effects it has on the health of the local community. The screening was followed by a panel featuring Mr. Motley, along with Zulene Mayfield (Chairperson, Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living), Tikia Robinson (Chester resident, mother,Volunteer, Chester Residents Concerned for Quality Living), and Erin Johnson (Program Coordinator, Public Health Management Corporation; Consultant, MACCHE). Fierce, determined, and heartfelt, the speakers not only showcased how important local action is in combating environmental injustice but also gave personal insight into how destructive practices such as large-scale waste incineration are within communities. The panel was a fitting closer to the conference, leaving the audience motivated and knowledgeable on an example of environmental injustice occurring on a massive scale just outside many of our front doors. 

Author Bio: Matthew Jones is the ANHE Environmental Health Intern and political science major at Towson University