In 2021, the Long Island Chapter of the New York State Children’s Environmental Health Centers (NYSCHECK) created the Wyandanch Community Advisory Board (CAB) to identify and address the community health needs of regional children and youth.
In coming months, the CAB will provide guidance to:
- Identify local environmental hazards and community health resources.
- Review strategies to reduce exposures to hazards and expand access to health resources.
- Work with public health officials to reduce or eliminate sources of known pollution.
Environmental health concerns the physical, chemical, biological, and social factors external to each person that impacts their health. “It encompasses the assessment and control of those environmental factors that can potentially affect health. It is targeted towards preventing disease and creating health-supportive environments.” (World Health Organization Definition)
What Comprises the Environment?
According to the National Institute on Environmental Health Sciences the environment is comprised of:
- The Natural Environment – includes clean (or polluted) air, water, food, soil. It includes biological and chemical materials.
- The Built Environment – includes buildings, roads, and parks where people live, travel and play. Wyandanch is now a regional leader in creating walkable downtown districts that can reduce pollution and increase opportunities for recreation and commerce.
- The Social Environment – encompasses lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise, social environmental systems and other societal influences that may affect health.
The success of Wyandanch Rising illustrates local leadership for transit oriented development. We can build upon past successes to improve environmental health and environmental justice for youth.
Initial community conversations in 2021 identified Wyandanch for its high rates of asthma and the need to monitor local air quality to better understand the causes of local respiratory illnesses.
Those conversations also demonstrated a strong community commitment to tackle local issues using a holistic “total wellness” health model. This offers an opportunity for a deeper rethinking of health in coming years that aligns community health, regional economics, and environmental quality.
“Build back better” is a science-based framework for community and environmental resilience. The impacts of COVID19 revealed many gaps and deficiencies in the national and regional public health system. Solutions should include small incremental reforms as well as more visionary efforts to rethink the future of community well being and quality of life. We hope that this CAB can contribute to both.
Social Determinants of Health
The graphic below offers examples of social and environmental factors that impact the quality of our health.
Source: National Academy of Sciences, 2017. “Conceptual Model” in Communities in Action.
For example, it is well understood that access to health insurance impacts the frequency and quality of health care available to individuals and families. Too often, a lack of access to health insurance forces families to defer health care appointments until minor problems become major health threats. This harms the health of family members and raises the costs of health care for the entire community.
Education is also a critical factor. Communities with higher rates of high school and college graduation typically have higher incomes and a greater capacity to make better health care choices.
Health is Human Right
A basic principle of public health is that each of us has a right to live a healthy life. Yet health disparities are an unfortunate reality on Long Island.
For example, we see clear and measurable differences in rates of infection with COVID-19 in lower income and minority communities compared with regional averages. Communities with higher levels of health burdens may also face reduced access to health care services. There may be fewer services (clinics or hospitals) or less access to health insurance.
Another concern is higher exposures to pollution. This often correlates with variations in race, ethnicity, and income.
List of Participants:
Scott Carlin, LIU Post
Latesha Walker, Concerned Citizens of Wyandanch
Al Jordan, Stony Brook University
Sophie Jan Cohen’s Children’s Medical Center, Northwell Health
Karen Miller, HBCAC
Melanie Gabrell, HBCAC
Laurie Farber, Starflower Experiences
Karyn Kirschbaum, Healthy Schools and Communities (Western Suffolk BOCES).
Heather Butts, Health for Youth; LIU Post
Emily McCrae HBCAC, LIU