Tackling Environmental Health Threats
The world has undergone dramatic change in the past two years. The pandemic has shone a light on systemic inequities in our healthcare system and our nation has experienced a reckoning with racial injustice. What has received less attention, but also has dire implications, are disparities related to environmental health risks.
The University Research Corridor (URC) and its member institutions—Michigan State University (MSU), the University of Michigan (U-M), and Wayne State University (WSU)—are dedicated to assembling their collective expertise and capabilities to produce tangible impacts that improve the lives and health of all Michiganders and help to ensure justice for all.
In this brief, we focus on how URC institutions work to understand and mitigate environmental impacts on human health. As the Great Lakes State, Michigan is endowed with incredible environmental assets that elevate the quality of life for residents and visitors alike. But these benefits are not universal. For many communities, pollution, climate change, and inadequate water infrastructure threaten public health.
Furthermore, these risks disproportionally affect exploited populations and individuals with low incomes. And in many cases, remediation of environmental threats requires significant investments of research, money, and time.
From 2016-2020, URC institutions conducted nearly $494 million in environmental health research, including work in engineering, business, economics, and sociology. Over those five years, we awarded 52,709 undergraduate and graduate students with environmental health–related degrees. Our institutions have and continue to tackle environmental risks that threaten the health of Michiganders today and into the future.
One example is that all three URC universities conduct National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) research. MSU is home to the long-funded Superfund Research Program (SRP), U-M features the Michigan Center on Lifestage Environmental Exposures and Disease (M-LEEaD), and WSU hosts the Center for Urban Responses to Environmental Stressors (CURES). All three programs support community engagement and connect research to communities across the state, providing local leaders with information they can use to benefit residents and economies.
Smarter, safer and more equitably distributed modern infrastructure is a means of better protecting the health of people and communities from environmental threats. Whether it’s flooding from stormwater or broken dams, lead in drinking water or air pollution, URC researchers are at the forefront in discovering how to mitigate the impacts of these threats to protect residents’ health. They are designing and testing new technologies for infrastructure systems and working with communities to implement them. And as states and communities begin to use the once-in-a-generation funding from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, URC university researchers can help to ensure communities have access to the most up-to-date knowledge and innovation to serve residents today and into the future.
Recent events have had a profound impact on our universities, economy, and the state—a trend that will likely continue for some time. We continue to deliver on our core activities of education, research, and service, and to fulfill our mission to serve Michigan and its residents by addressing the most enduring challenges facing our communities.