Local government agencies working together to address environmental health

Local governments in New Jersey have broad authorities to advance efforts that address local conditions that may affect health.  “Social determinants of health are the conditions and environments where people are live which affect a wide range of health, functioning, and quality of life, outcomes and risks.  Social determinants of health can be grouped into five domains:

  • economic stability,
  • education access and quality,
  • health care access and quality,
  • social and community context, and
  • neighborhood and built environment.”

Environmental and neighborhood conditions directly affect health status and play a major role in quality of life, years of healthy life lived, and health disparities. Safe air, land, and water are fundamental to a healthy community environment as is access to nutritious food, outdoor spaces to recreate, and an environment free of hazards.

Examples of roles and responsibilities of municipal governments in New Jersey that can contribute to efforts to promote and improve environmental health include:

  • Municipal governance pursuant to the New Jersey Municipal Land Use Law (N.J.S.A. 40:55D-1) which grants towns the authority to adopt a master plan that sets land use priorities and to enact zoning ordinances that dictate where and in what form development should happen, all with the purpose of protecting the health, safety, and welfare of residents.
  • Establishment of an Environmental Commission (N.J.S.A. 40:56A-1) which are authorized to advise local governing bodies on environmental issues, research local environmental issues to support local governance, inform local governing bodies’ decisions on proposals for development, develop and maintain an inventory of environmental resources and environmentally sensitive assets, educate and inform residents, among other responsibilities.
  • Minimum practice standards and capabilities of a municipal Board of Health which is responsible for ensuring the delivery of specific requirements as outlined in New Jersey Department of Health rules (N.J.A.C. 8:52). Increasingly, the practice of local public health nationally is evolving to a framework of Public Health 3.0 in which public health officials work collaboratively with community partners and local officials in other sectors to advance collective impact focused on social determinants of health.
  • Voluntary participation in Sustainable JerseyTM which is a nonprofit organization that establishes voluntary actions for adoption by municipalities to promote local sustainability. Managed by municipal level Green teams with participation in 458 of New Jersey’s 565 municipalities, Sustainable Jersey outlines discrete actions for municipalities to voluntarily take in order to gain points.  With regard to environmental health, Sustainable Jersey currently has actions in categories including Brownfields redevelopment, waste management, Green Design, Land Use and Transportation and Sustainability and Climate Planning.

Focus groups conducted by the New Jersey Departments of Environmental Protection and Health with local planners, health officials and environmental commissioners in support of New Jersey’s participation in the National Environmental Public Health Tracking (EPHT) Program, point to the strong commitment of local officials to use their authorities, roles and responsibilities to address environmental conditions in their communities that may affect health.  Local officials indicated a need for technical assistance and easy access to local environmental and health data to support their efforts to address environmental conditions that may affect health.

Through its participation in the national EPHT, New Jersey DEP and DOH are assembling municipal-level data pertaining to environmental health that can assist local governments, including health, planning and environmental agencies and “Green Teams,” with integrating consideration of environmental health more systematically into planning healthy communities. Across the United States as well as in New Jersey, there are replicable examples of how local health, planning and environmental agencies are using EPHT and other environmental health data to plan for environmentally healthy communities. 

In New Jersey, the Municipal Land Use Law requires municipalities to adopt and periodically reexamine is comprehensive Master Plan to support its zoning ordinances. Members of the public and other local agencies have opportunities to provide input to the master planning process.

• King County, WA
Integration of environmental health into VISION2040 planning process
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• Austin, TX
Integration of health into park planning
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• Phoenix, AZ
Incorporation of health and environmental components in 2018 General Plan
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• Jersey City, NJ
Inclusion of pollution and other environmental health factors in an Environmental Resource Inventory adopted as part of a municipal master plan
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• Newark, NJ
Adoption of an Environmental Resource Inventory focused on building a baseline connecting public health to the environment, land use, and neighborhood quality of life
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In New Jersey, local Boards of Health and Environmental Commissions are authorized to review development applications and advise Planning Boards, Boards of Adjustment and local governing bodies on potential health implications. Examples of where local agencies have established data-driven systems to consider health outcomes of development include:

• San Francisco, CA
Healthy Development Measurement Tool
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• Bay Area, CA
Community use of mapping tool to identify where transportation projects should require mitigation measures
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• San Francisco, CA
Establishment of “conditional use” permits with requirements for specific provisions for power plants in zoned industrial districts
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• Newark, NJ
Adoption of an Environmental Justice and Cumulative Impacts Ordinance that requires developers to identify any environmental impacts from their projects
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• Camden, NJ
Adoption of Ordinance Adopting Sustainability Requirements that requires developers to generate an Environmental Impacts and Benefits Assessment
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In New Jersey, municipalities have broad authority to assess impacts of local land use decisions on community assets; current authority allows opportunity for greater integration of consideration of environmental health outcomes of local land use decisions.  Examples of where impacts of local land use on health were considered include:

• Oklahoma City, OK
Use of Health Impact Assessment to examine various potential planning scenarios
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• Baltimore, MD
Use of Health Impact Assessment to evaluate health impacts of revision to the city’s comprehensive zoning code
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• Boston, MA

Use of Health Impact Assessment to set priorities for funding transit oriented development
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• Minneapolis MN
Use of Health Impact Assessment to inform reexamination of city master plan
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• Florence, NJ
Adoption of an ordinance requiring applicants for a major site plan and/or a major subdivision to prepare an environmental impact statement to protect public health, safety, and welfare. Statements must be forwarded to the Environmental Commission.
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• New York, NY
2017 law requiring study of zoning impacts on health in Environmental Justice communities
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Use of environmental health data can facilitate community-engaged efforts to improve health outcomes through addressing environmental challenges in a community. New Jersey has some of the most comprehensive sets of data on municipal level health and environmental factors that can support local efforts to engage residents in addressing environmental determinants on health outcomes. Examples of where communities have used data to inform residents involvement in local planning to improve environmental health include: • Clearwater, FL Redevelopment of a Brownfields site to a community health center Go to document →
In New Jersey zoning ordinances serve to implement the vision outlined in the municipal master plan. Zoning can set minimum separation distances for specific uses or create buffer zonings to serve as a transition between incompatible land uses, such as residential and industrial uses. Buffers may include transitional uses, vegetative and/or other types of screening. Zoning can also establish the requirement for conditional use permits that allow land uses that may have potential environmental or health impacts when certain requirements are met. Zoning can also prohibit certain uses in specified areas. Examples of zoning uses to address potential environmental exposures: • Los Angeles, CA Establishment of a Clean Up Green Up zoning overlay with requirements designed to reduce cumulative environmental exposures Go to document → • Minneapolis, MN Establishment of green zones to improve public health Go to document → • Baltimore, MD 2018 law banning crude oil terminals Go to document → • Rock County, WI Source trackdown to inform future land use planning Go to document → • San Francisco, CA Adoption of Ordinance 224-14 designed to protect the public health and welfare by establishing an Air Pollutant Exposure Zone and imposing an enhanced ventilation requirement for all urban infill development within the zone Go to document →
“Cleaning up and reinvesting in brownfields/land reuse properties improves and protects the environment, economy, and surrounding community’s health and well-being. However, not all plans for brownfields redevelopment and land reuse consider the community health issues that should be addressed. Furthermore, evaluations of improvements tend to focus on environmental and economic impacts and rarely include measurement of health and social improvements.” In New Jersey, financial incentives are available, such as funding from the Hazardous Site Discharge Site Remediation Fund, to support revitalization of Brownfields sites. Examples of where community health was a specific objective of a revitalization effort includes: • Kenosha, WI Redevelopment of the 29 acre “Brass” site into a mixed use and affordable housing neighborhood Go to document →

In New Jersey, local health agencies are required to “ provide a comprehensive health education and health promotion program which is developed and overseen by a health educator and provides integrated support to the daily operation of the local health agency” and environmental commissions are authorized to “inform residents on environmental matters and ways to help protect the environment.” Examples of where local agencies use EPHT and other environmental health data to educate and inform residents and well as engage residents in informing planning for healthy communities include:

• Vermont
Online blue green algae tracker
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• California
PFAS Drinking Water Mapper
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• Florida
Program on prevention of carbon monoxide poisoning
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• Menasha, WI
Lead database
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• Florida
PACE-EH program
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• Participatory budgeting
Use of environmental health data to support participatory budgeting
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• Imperial County, CA
Community air monitoring project
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• Spartanburg, SC
Revitalization of industrialized neighborhood with health concerns
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• Rhode Island
Community-driven health equity zone initiative
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