Environmental Justice Framed Through the 5 Senses

Structural developments have the ability to influence community engagement and overall lower stress, which in return can have positive effects on reducing mental and physical ailments. Even short exposures to natural settings can support individuals in overall health. Stress can be viewed as one of the most influential causes of health problems: anxiety, depression, and cardiovascular disease among the most common (Grinde, 2009). The study of nature and health has historically been examined through nature as a stress reduction tool and intervention. Broken windows theory is used to explore how neighborhood disorder (the evidence of structures and natural elements which are not kept up with) impacts health and behavior (O’Brien, Farrell, & Welsh, 2018). Behavior, in this review, is a term which describes the interventions that can be made to environments to achieve better health outcomes.

I.          Hearing:  

One of the most common issues within urban areas (that often goes unnoticed) is noise pollution (Nemes, 2018). Noise pollution is something that gets layered, as construction, traffic and highway, airplanes, and typical urban hustle and bustle create a constant hum that the body eventually tunes out in order to stay alert to obscurities or potential danger. New research has influenced the way in which sound is used to combat crime. For example, one city in California saw a drop in crime rates when they began playing recordings of songbirds in the streets.  

II.         Sight: 

Built space has shown to affect actual rates of healing in human subjects.  Data taken from 23 patients who were recovering after cholecystectomy (gallbladder removal) concluded that patients who were in hospital rooms with windows allowing for natural light had shorter hospital stays, fewer negative evaluations from nurses, and ingested less pain medication than patients whose hospital room window faced a brick wall (Ulright, 1984). When windows are left broken and abandoned there is a rise in crime and the overall perception of safety is diminished (O’Brien, Farrell, & Welsh, 2018). Morning light has shown to improve symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) (Lewey, 1998). Artificial light exposure has negative health implications—artificial light exposure at night can lead to breast cancer, circadian phase disruption, and sleep disorders (Cho et al, 2015). 

III.        Taste: 

            Due to the characteristics of the world’s water cycle, nonpoint pollution effects all water supplies. However, the main problem (for the human species) arises from drinking water contamination. Nonpoint pollution is one of the main sources of pollution urban areas; the more urban the area (increase in infrastructure) results in high-risk contamination (State of Connecticut Department of Public Health Drinking Water Division, 2016). Contamination in water has been reported to have a disproportionate effect on children. For infants under 6 months, even “short-term exposure to drinking water with a nitrate level at or just above the health standard of 10 mg/l nitrate-N is a potential health problem” which can cause digestive tract issues leading to a disease called methemoglobinemia, which can result in death (McCasland, 2012). 

Infrastructure can also produce positive outcomes for health when they limit access to things like fast food restaurants resulting in lower obesity rates. However, urban areas also experience poor access to supermarkets, which can be correlated to poor nutritional intake (Larson, 2009). Likewise, reduced access to fast food restaurants is positively correlated with a lower risk in cardiovascular disease (Chum, 2015). An overall negative association to health in regard to food intake is seen through the fact that low-income and minority grounds around the US have more fast food restaurants within their geographic, and are also influenced by lack of access to healthy options that one would find in a supermarket (Larson, 2009). 

IV.        Smell or Breath: 

Similarly, to water pollution, air pollution is largely associated with car traffic, high industrial landscapes. Living in close proximity to these things can put a person at a greater risk for toxins. Andersson (2018) found that traffic-related air pollution is correlated to dementia. Smell also has the potential to benefit health, Natural plan odors have shown to influence calmness, alertness, and promote stress reduction (Weber, 2008). 

V.         Touch: 

Gardening is a common practice that can be engaged within in both private and community settings. Due to the fact that gardening is an activity that all age groups can participate in public gardens can improve public health (Soga, 2016) especially within urban landscapes when designed properly into the environment. Studies on gardening-related activates have shown to change brain wave activity, reduction in pain and sensitivity to pain, and benefits to immune system functioning. Additionally, this type of direct exposure to nature improves both mental and physical health, gardening can reduce stress, anxiety, depression, anger, and promote physical activity (Soga, 2016).

Published by Gabrielle Francis Amlicke, MSW

Advocate for Environmental Social Work & CEO Founder Environmental Social Work LLC

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