Environmental Issues

Impact of Environmental Barriers on People With Disabilities

Physical barriers can come from the natural environment or also from human-made changes within the natural environment. The natural environmental barriers can be as diverse as the terrain and climate to human-made changes including things such as walkways and other things built into the environment. 

Able-bodied people give little thought to these barriers but it becomes a problem in people with disabilities when trying to navigate with a walker or a wheel-chair. These barriers also vary depending on if the person with a disability lives in cities or in rural areas. Environmental barriers affect rural respondents more than their city-living counterparts (Visagle et al. 2017).

The United States has made significant strides in improving the lives of people with disabilities in regards to environmental barriers. Reasonable accommodation is ensured with the establishment of the American with Disabilities Act 19. A research agenda, “New Paradigm of Disability” was established by the National Institute on Disability and Rehabilitation Research (NIDRR) to help improve lives of people with disability. The Institute of Medicine has established disability as the basis of its research agenda, and they have placed importance on environmental barriers in people with disabilities as addressed in their report, Enabling America, 21. Also, there is a growing international interest in disability issues and the importance of environmental factors. This is not just a United States problem but a global problem. The United Nations (UN) has also focused attention on disability and established the Disability Year 25 and Disability Decade.

There are many different disabilities but a group looked at barriers seen in people with spinal cord injuries and found there were five main barriers in this disabled population. These top barriers in descending order include environment, transportation, help at home, health care, and governmental policies (Whiteneck et al. 2004). Quality of life is likely adversely impacted as well due to the environmental factors, however, the authors did not perform a systematic review of that effect. The environment is a major barrier with people living with traumatic brain injury and includes physical barriers such as stairs, hills, roads, and buildings (Whiteneck et al. 2004). These physical barriers are more of a substantial problem in older adults than with younger adults but affects all populations to some degree (Brainline). The older population has problems with finding transportation either lack of transportation or limited access to transportation. There are also barriers in their surroundings that affect life such as poor lighting, too much noise, crowds, cold temperature, too much rain, steep hills, etc. (Brainline). Although these barriers were specifically addressed in people living with spinal cord injuries or traumatic brain injuries, they may have an effect on anyone living with a disability.

Many of these environmental barriers can be mitigated by providing adequate transportation. It is also important to design and layout buildings keeping in mind the needs to accommodate people with disabilities. The natural environment is not as easily manipulated or changed as temperature, terrain, and climate are more stationary or unadjustable. Lighting and noise can be managed or adjusted to help accommodate these individuals. Many of these adaptations can easily be made to improve the environment for individuals with disabilities.

The environment can create barriers for participation and inclusion. These barriers include things as simple as not having accessible building which could be lack of an elevator for someone with a walking disability or who is in a wheel chair. People living in poverty may not have access to drinkable water or sanitation which provides an added barrier to someone with a disability. Policy changes need to be enacted to help improve conditions and provide proper buildings and building layouts, technology including Braille or hearing-impaired services, signage, and opportunities for people with disabilities.


Can disability be prevented? There are preventative measures that can be taken to help reduce the potential for disability. These measures include providing education and adequate nutrition, preventing diseases, providing safe water and sanitation, improving safety on the roads and in the workplace (Caulfield et al. 2006). These preventative measures fall under the realm of public health and have three different prevention approaches. The first is primary prevention which provides education to help promote health, an example would be educating people about HIV (Maart and Jelsma 2010). The secondary prevention detects a problem early on and provide a cure or reduces long-term effects, an example would be to provide screening for breast cancer in women with disabilities (McIlfatric et al. 2011). Finally, the tertiary prevention reduces disease-related complications, an example would be rehabilitation for someone with a musculoskeletal system impairment where they might receive physical or occupational therapy services (Atijosan et al. 2009). 

Environmental Issues of West of the USA

Pollution is an ongoing issue for the entire nation, and particularly in the cities of California where they are mostly developed in valleys or plains surrounded by mountains.


The issues of air quality and air pollution are not a new, dating back to the first one hundred years of the United States existence, where most problems were addressed by litigation rather legislation. Air pollution was viewed as a common law nuisance and courts addressed them accordingly. It was around 1881 in Chicago, IL and Cincinnati, OH when the first legislation was enacted specifically declaring the emission of smoke to be a public nuisance. The first state legislation providing policies aimed at reducing and eliminating smoke pollution was introduced in 1910. While the issue of air pollution was receiving little national consideration, it was in 1943 when the first recognized episodes of smog occurred in Los Angeles, CA. Residents began experiencing itching eyes, burning lungs, and nausea from the incidence termed a “gas attack” and the occurrence was attributed to a nearby synthetic rubber making plant. However, after the plant shut down the haze remained prompting the residents and local officials to push for a solution and in 1947, the Los Angeles County Air Pollution Control District, the first such body in the nation, was formed with the objectives of regulating power plants and oil refineries. The concern for the health of citizens called for Los Angeles, local industry, and later the State of California to expend millions of dollars for research as to the cause and a cure for the smog.

In 1950, Dr. Arie Haagen-Smit, a scientist, determined that airborne hydrocarbons from gasoline and oxides of nitrogen produced by internal combustion engines, the two chief constituents of automobile exhaust were to blame for the smog. His research, highlighting the reaction of sunlight with automobile exhaust and industrial air pollution, became the foundation upon which today’s air pollution regulations are based. California began to take action statewide, forming a Bureau of Air Sanitation within the California Department of Public Health, and requiring that department to establish air quality standards and set necessary controls on motor vehicle emissions of air pollutants. The California delegation in Congress felt that air pollution research efforts and cost should be endured nationally and in 1950 the California delegation initiated federal legislative action. The issue of air pollution and air quality gained national concern becoming not just a problem for California, but for the country jointly. Air pollutants not only impact humans, they have a negative effect on other environmental things such as crops, animals, forests, and bodies of water.

Evidence of a Problem

I struggled to find actual results of research conducted prior to the first federal legislation pertaining to the control of air pollution, the Clean Air Act of 1963. I have therefore provided three relative research and findings suitable to the issue of air pollution. The first, The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences conducted research over the past thirty years showing a variety of health issues as a result of exposure to poor air quality from pollution in the form of respiratory disease, cardiovascular disease, adverse pregnancy outcomes, and even death. A further study by the Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment, one of the six entities within the California Environmental Protection Agency, found that the prevalence of asthma and bronchitis symptoms were about 7 percent higher in children in neighborhoods with higher levels of traffic pollutants compared with other children in the study. The study, which involved air monitoring and a health survey of about 1,100 students at 10 Alameda County elementary schools located various distances from major roads, found moderately higher rates of asthma and bronchitis symptoms (such as wheezing and excessive phlegm) in children residing and attending school in neighborhoods with higher levels of traffic- related air pollution. Scientists from OEHHA and the Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory collaborated on the study, which was published in the The American Journal of Respiratory and Critical Care Medicine. “Our studies underline the importance of California’s continuing efforts to reduce motor vehicle emissions,” OEHHA Director Dr. Joan E. Denton said. “There is a growing body of evidence that children exposed to high levels of traffic pollution may be more susceptible to asthma and bronchitis symptoms.” The preliminary results of the two studies formed part of the scientific basis for a 2003 state law (Senate Bill 352 by Senator Martha Escutia) that limits the construction of new schools near busy roads. Finally, The Children’s Health Study (CHS) conducted research on the effects of air pollution on children in conjunction with the California Air Resources Board, The National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences, the Environmental Protection Agency, and the Hastings Foundation. The study begun in Southern California in 1993, and was one of the largest and most comprehensive investigations of the long-term consequences of air pollution on the respiratory health of children. More than 6000 public school children were recruited into the CHS from 12 different communities, which maximized the diversity in air pollution concentrations and mixtures across the region. In total, nearly 4000 children in the 4th, 7th, and 10th grades were recruited at the initiation of the study in 1993, and an additional 2000 4th grade schoolchildren were recruited in 1996…As a means of characterizing air quality in each of the 12 study communities, ambient concentrations of O^sub 3^, PM^sub 2.5^ (particulate matter less than 2.5 microns in diameter), PM^sub 10^, NO^sub 2^, and acid vapors have been measured at central monitoring stations. The main findings, lung function growth was approximately 10% slower among children living in communities with higher NO^sub 2^ levels and other traffic-related pollutants, including nitric acid vapor and particulate matter. This result was replicated in the second cohort of 4th-grade schoolchildren enrolled in 1996, and the effect was observed among both normal and asthmatic children. These findings are consistent with longitudinal and cross-sectional findings of other investigations. An improvement was seen in lung function growth rates among children who moved away from the more polluted communities to areas of lower PM^sub 10^ concentrations, and growth rate retardation was observed among those moving to areas with higher concentrations.

The Air Pollution Problem is Recognized

California was the first state to implement a statewide pollution control act. Governor Earl Warren signed the California Air Pollution Control Act (CAPCA) into law on June 10, 1947. This law authorized the creation of Air Pollution Control districts out of every county, including Los Angeles County, which was one of the largest and most polluted areas in the nation. Also key to this event was the fact that Eisenhower would later appoint Earl Warren to Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1953, thus changing the judicial view of air pollution. As previously noted, the California delegation in Congress along with many other state and local governments that had started to pass their own air pollution control laws, believed the issue of air pollution research efforts and cost should not be exclusively the obligation of the states but rather the responsibility of the federal government. After three failed resolutions to acquisition more funds for research from Congress, Senators Thomas H. Kuchel (R.-Calif.) and Homer E. Capehart (R.-Ind.) sponsored Senate Bill S928, The Air Pollution Control Act, in early 1955 seeking more funds for research and assistance to the states. The Senate placed it under the control of the subcommittee on Flood Control-Rivers and Harbors and air pollution was added to its agenda hearing on Water and Air Pollution Control in April 1955. The bill was reported out on May 3, 1955, passing the Senate and authorizing $3,000,000 annually for 5 years for air pollution research, training, and technical assistance. When the House committee reported out the bill in June it increased the authorization to $5,000,000 annually for five years. The House passed the bill on July 5, 1955 after making some amendments and the Senate agreed without debate, to the bill as amended by the House. On July 14, 1955 President Eisenhower signed The Air Pollution Control Act to law, the first of its kind providing federal funds for research, training, and technical assistance to states and local control agencies. The Air Pollution Control Act of 1955 became the primary statute from which all future clean air legislation acts would originate, all as amendments.

In a September 1963 staff report to the Senate Committee on Public Works Air and Water Pollution, it was informed that dirty air had been responsible for heavy damage to property – estimated at $11 billion a year. The damage estimate included the cost of extra cleaning of clothes and furnishings, metal erosion, rubber cracking, damage to precision instruments and other equipment, damage to buildings from smoke and corrosive compounds, and damage to agricultural crops, livestock and forest resources. Attempts to limit air pollution have been hindered by the excessive costs for equipment to control pollution by industries and by the lack of technological knowledge. State and local programs to prevent or control air pollution have been in existence for 15 years or more, and in 1963 there were 33 states and numerous communities with some type of air pollution programs. However, expenditures for state and local programs in 1961 amounted to only $10.1 million and more than half of that total was spent in California alone.

On March 18, 1963 the House Committee on Interstate and Foreign Commerce backed House bill HR 4415 to strengthen, and accelerate programs for the prevention and abatement of air pollution. Supporters of the bill, Under Secretary Ivan Nestingen, Charles Wilbar Jr., President of the Association of State and Territorial Health Officers, and David Buckson, spokesman for the National Association of Attorneys General, said “the bill would provide the federal government the authority to enforce control measures.” J.O. Julson, representative of Weyerhaeuser Co. and Daniel Cannon, spokesman for the National Association of Manufacturers, opposed the bill stating “the role of the Federal Government should be one of research and advice, that communities are entirely capable of carrying out effective air pollution control programs without federal enforcement.” House bill HR 4415 amended reported as HR 6518 on July 9, 1963 and provided power to enforce abatement measures and authorized $90 million in federal appropriations over a three year period. Floor action followed on July 24, and the House passed the bill.

On September 9, 1963 the Senate Public Works held hearings on S432, the companion bill to HR 6518. Supporters of the bill, Senator Edmund Muskie and Senator Abraham Ribicoff, “Our population is increasing and our standard of living is going up. Our industries, homes, and office buildings and motor vehicles take the air, combine it with fuels and return the polluting compounds to the air. The more we prosper, the more we foul the air we breathe.” Outside of California, there had been little increase in measurable changes to contest air pollution at the state and local levels the last several years. On November 19, the Senate passed HR 6518 after substituting the language of its own bill S432, it authorized $182 million in appropriations for fiscal years 1965-1969. The Conference Committee report on December 5, 1963 concerning bill HR 6518-House Report 88-1003 conferred acceptance of Senate bill except to change grant authorization from $182 million over 5 years to $95 million over 3 years. The December 10, Conference report was adopted by Senate voice vote and by house, after some debate. On December 17, 1963 President Johnson signs (PL 88-206 'Clean Air Act of 1963) (HR 6518) (77 Stat 392) (42 USC 1857 et seq.).

Since the implementation of the Clean Air Act in 1963, there have been several amendments. The amendments passed in 1965, 1966, 1967, and 1969 all authorized the Secretary of Health, Education, and Welfare to set standards for auto emissions, expanded local air pollution control programs, established air quality control regions, set air quality standards and compliance deadlines stationary source emissions, and authorized research on low emissions fuels and automobiles. The 1970 Clean Air Act amendment established new primary and secondary standards for ambient air quality, set new limits on emissions from stationary and mobile sources to be enforced by both state and federal governments, and increased funds for air pollution research. Finally, in 1990 the Clean Air Act was amended to address the issues of air-quality standards, motor vehicle emissions and alternative fuels, toxic air pollutants, acid rain, and stratospheric ozone depletion. The law set out to strengthen and improve existing regulations. ,

California was a main staple the legislation adopted by the federal government, setting the tone for air pollution legislation for years to come. California’s efforts to control air pollution were recognized in 1970 and they were authorized to set their own separate and stricter vehicle emissions over and above those of the federal government. Since the creation of the California Air Resources Board, they set the nation’s first tailpipe emissions standards in 1966, catalytic converters in the 1970s, on-board diagnostic in 1988, Zero-Emission Vehicle regulation in 1990, the nation’s first greenhouse emission standards for cars in 2002, and California’s Advanced Clean Cars Program in 2012, which reduces both conventional criteria and greenhouse gas pollutant emissions from automobiles.


Pollution is an ongoing issue for the entire nation, and particularly in the cities of California where they are mostly developed in valleys or plains surrounded by mountains. However, there has been success in reducing and controlling the problem and improvement of health issues in those living in and around the highly populated areas. Santa Barbara County has experienced nearly a fifty percent decrease in smog-forming emissions between 1985 and 2015 with fewer high smog days even as they received a growing population. Ozone exceptions lowered to three days in 2016 vs. ninety-seven days in 1991. Smog alerts dropped from 148 in 1970 to zero in 2000. A twenty year study by USC Children’s Health, published in the New England Journal of Medicine, measured lung development between the ages of 11 and 15 and found large gains for children studied from 2007 to 2011, compared to children of the same age in the same communities from 1994-98 and 1997-2001. The gains in lung function paralleled improving air quality in the communities studied and across the Los Angeles basin, as policies to fight pollution took hold. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency determined that from 1970 to 2014, the aggregate national emissions of the six criteria pollutants dropped by an average of sixty-nine percent. Air Quality in America published results of a study showing the nationwide levels of nitrogen dioxide, sulfur dioxide, and carbon monoxide declined from 1984 to 2007 by thirty-one percent, sixty-one percent, and seventy percent, respectfully.