What is Environmental Justice.

Environmental justice is not just a term; it’s a guiding principle that addresses the unequal distribution of environmental burdens and benefits within our communities.

Understanding Our Environment

Our Environments and Human Impact:

Our environments encompass the spaces where we live, work, play, learn, and pray. Human activities can leave both positive and negative imprints on these spaces. Unfortunately, negative impacts often include toxic exposure that is harmful to our health in the air, water, soil, and food, emanating from industrial pollution.

Environmental Health:

Environmental Health focuses on understanding how human well-being is intricately tied to the environment. Our goal is to promote safe and healthy communities for everyone, recognizing that the health of individuals is deeply connected to the health of their surroundings.

So, What is Environmental Justice?

Environmental Justice is the fair treatment, equal protection, and equal enforcement of environmental laws and regulation of people no matter their race, culture, or income.
Environmental justice emphasizes the right of every person to live, work, and play in a healthy environment, free from discrimination, and advocates for policies and practices that promote sustainability, community empowerment, and overall well-being.

Environmental Injustice:
Environmental injustice arises when specific groups bear a disproportionate burden of pollution, lack access to essential environmental services, and experience the loss of rights to land and resources. Shockingly, a person’s race often plays a more significant role in determining their proximity to polluted air, water, or soil than their income or social class.

1 %

of people living
near toxic waste sites are
people of color.

20 X

People of color are 2 times
more likely to live without
modern sanitation.

Racial Disparities in Toxic Waste Sites

Environmental Justice and Racism.

It’s crucial to grasp the profound connection between environmental injustice and racism. In various instances, a person’s racial background becomes a more significant factor in their exposure to environmental hazards. Understanding and addressing this connection is fundamental to building a just and equitable society.

Shopping Basket

Atenas Mena

Atenas Mena is the Environmental Health Director and shares a co-leadership role at CleanAirNow. Atenas was born and raised in Kansas City and is a proud first-generation Mexican American. She received her bachelor’s degree in nursing from Avila University in 2014 and went on to receive her master’s in nursing leadership from Missouri Western State University in 2019.

In addition to working as a nurse, Atenas received extensive environmental health training in the field, working with the Children’s Mercy Environmental Health Program team, as both an educator and a team coordinator. She has worked continuously throughout the last few years with CleanAirNow through boots-on-the-ground projects, served on the board of directors, and has recently transitioned into the current leadership role as Environmental Health Director. Atenas centers her work around reducing health inequities, educating communities on environmental health impacts, and empowering community members to have a voice and fight for equity and environmental justice.

Atenas recently received The Sapling Award in recognition of her outstanding commitment and leadership in environmental health nursing. This Award seeks to recognize a nurse leader who goes beyond everyday nursing endeavors to actively promote and protect environmental and human health and advance environmental justice.

Beto Lugo Martinez

Beto is an environmental justice organizer and co-executive director of CleanAirNow. He serves to raise community voices in the fight against environmental racism and to overcome the systemic exclusion of frontline communities from the decision-making process. His lived experience, growing up fenceline to a petrochemical facility continues to drive his work at the intersection of climate, environmental justice, and public health. He is a founding member of the California Environmental Justice Coalition, Co-Founder of La Union Hace La Fuerza, a farmworker justice organization and member of national CJ & EJ networks including the EJ Leadership Forum, Building Equity and Alignment (BEA) and the National Leadership Advisory Board Member of the Moving Forward Network.

Beto’s contributions to the movement include organizing, legislation that prioritizes environmental justice and community-led research amongst many other community-engaged initiatives that directly inform state policy. He has co-authored multiple academic publications on community-based participatory research, air pollution, data accessibility, and community engagement. In August 2023 was invited to continue serving through 2025 as a member of the US Environmental Protection Agency’s Clean Air Act Advisory Committee, to represent a grassroots frontline perspective. He also serves in advisory board roles of professional associations and academic institutions, such as the American Public Health Association’s Center for Climate, Health and Equity, Children’s Environmental Health Sciences Translational Research at USC, Community Engagement Core of the Southern California Environmental Health Sciences Center at USC, Health Effects Institute Environmental Justice Advisory Group and USC MPH Public Health Advisory Board Member for the Trojan Scholars for Advancement in Public Health.

Beto is currently involved in a research project titled “Building Momentum to Bridge Climate and Health Across KU Campuses and the Community supported by the Health Humanities and Arts Research Collaborative, The Commons, and the Office of Research at the University of Kansas.”