When Mark Mitchell, M.D., ’81, saw young children struggling with the effects of asthma, he set out to make a difference.
For much of the past 15 years, Mitchell has been active in educating communities, primarily low-income areas, on the effects of the environment on their health. His efforts have focused on preventing or reducing the rates of disease and the symptoms often suffered.
The former director of the Department of Health for Hartford, Connecticut, and a former deputy director of the Kansas City, Missouri, Health Department, Mitchell is now the principal of a consulting firm that focuses on environmental health and environmental justice issues.
He spoke on those subjects at the UMKC School of Medicine as part of the Dean’s Visiting Professor Series on July 14.
Mitchell began his personal campaign for environmental health shortly after leaving his position with the health department in Hartford. He soon he realized that nearly a third of the children in the neighborhood near his office had breathing problems. Mitchell said he became upset when he approached the state health department and was told the issue wasn’t worth investigating.
“I decided to go out and start an environmental justice organization,” Mitchell said.
Today, in addition to his work as principal of Mitchell Environmental Health Associates, he serves as co-chair of the Environmental Health Task Force at the National Medical Association. He is also the founder and senior policy advisor for the Connecticut Coalition for Environmental Justice.
Mitchell has been recognized as Physician of the Year by the National Medical Association Region I and has received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Region I.
“Environmental justice is basically about health,” he said. “And environmental hazards are disproportionately located in low income communities of any color.”
Mitchell discussed the many environmental hazards people face, pointing out that that more than 180 health conditions have been associated with exposure to the environment. He also shared a number of things people can do to make a difference, such as maintaining a healthy diet of fresh foods, recycling, using natural products on lawns and gardens, and getting enough exercise.
He encouraged people to become environmental advocates and talk to their elected officials about primary prevention policies.
“You can’t shop you’re way out of this,” Mitchell said. “You need to talk to our manufacturers, to retail stores and to elected officials to require alternatives to both cancer-causing and other toxic chemicals, to require more testing and more disclosure about products, and ban chemicals that are the most toxic from our products and processes.”