To address and protect the health of communities disproportionally affected by pollution and other environmental problems, the Biden-Harris administration created a new U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) office in May 2022.

The Office of Environmental Justice (OEJ) falls under the Office of Climate Change and Health Equity, a part of HHS. OEJ is tasked with:

  • Leading initiatives to integrate environmental justice into the HHS mission to improve health in underserved communities.
  • Developing and implementing an HHS-wide strategy on environmental justice and health.
  • Coordinating HHS environmental justice reports.
  • Providing HHS’s Office of Civil Rights with expertise to support compliance of the Civil Rights Act of 1964.
  • Promoting training opportunities to create an environmental justice workforce.

“Health is closely connected to the environments where people spend the most time— neighborhoods, workplaces and outdoor spaces,” Admiral Rachel Levine, MD, assistant secretary for health, said. “Millions in the United States are at risk of poor health because they live, work, play, learn and grow in or near areas of excessive pollution and other environmental hazards. The OEJ is an important avenue through which their well-being and quality of life are receiving our full attention.”

OEJ’s establishment stems from President Biden’s Executive Order 14008, which tasked the White House Environmental Justice Interagency Council with creating a plan to address current and historical environmental injustices.

“The blunt truth is that many communities across our nation—particularly low-income communities and communities of color—continue to bear the brunt of pollution from industrial development, poor land use decisions, transportation, and trade corridors,” Xavier Becerra, secretary of HHS, said. “Meeting the needs of these communities requires our focused attention. That’s why HHS is establishing OEJ.”

The environment is just one of the many factors that can affect a person’s health, including putting them at risk for developing cancer. Advocating for those who are at a high risk for cancer can help all persons, especially those in overlooked communities.