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Issues Of The Environment: The Relationship Between Environmental Justice And Winter Health

Jan 15, 2020

Dr. Tony Reames, assistant professor at U-M's School for Environment and Sustainability
Credit University of Michigan School for Environment and Sustainability / seas.umich.edu

A number of Americans have difficulty paying their energy bills, which can be very dangerous to a person's health during the winter months.  Dr. Tony Reames, an assistant professor at the U-M's School for Environment and Sustainability, is now researching ways to better understand the correlation between environmental health and income.  Dr. Reames discusses his work with WEMU's David Fair for this week's "Issues of the Environment."


Overview

  • Nearly a third of U.S. households struggle to afford their energy bills, with one in five cutting back on or forgoing necessities such as food or medicine to pay for electricity and heat, according to the U.S. Energy Information Administration.  Some 14 percent have received a disconnection notice, and 10 percent keep temperatures at unsafe levels to reduce costs.  Of those struggling, about half are black and 40 percent are Latino.
  • Cold, drafty homes in the winter may contribute to illness or death because of resulting environmental health hazards and indoor temperature extremes.  The populations most at risk of living in these homes are often low-income, racial/ethnic minorities, elderly, and those with high energy burdens (or the proportion of household income dedicated to residential energy costs).
  • Based on U.S. death certificate information, an estimated 2,000 Americans die of weather-related causes every year, with about half attributed to exposure to excessive natural cold, hypothermia, or both (Berko et al. 2014).
  • Researcher Tony Reames focuses his work on the growing energy divide between rich and poor Americans.  He is piloting a new U-M study in southeast Michigan to develop a more complete understanding of the health impacts of indoor winter exposure in the US, particularly those households with high energy burdens and poor housing quality, which may render them less able to adapt during extreme cold weather events.
  • Tony Reames, Assistant Professor UM School for Environment & Sustainability; Director Urban Energy Justice Lab, believes it is important to provide low-income communities with better access to affordable clean energy technologies and hopes this research can better inform energy policies that benefit those most affected.

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— David Fair is the WEMU News Director and host of Morning Edition on WEMU.  You can contact David at 734.487.3363, on twitter @DavidFairWEMU, or email him at dfair@emich.edu