Transgenerational Epigenetics and Environmental Justice

Environmental Epigenetics 3(3) 2017

12 Pages Posted: 10 Sep 2017

See all articles by Mark A. Rothstein

Mark A. Rothstein

University of Louisville - Institute for Bioethics, Health Policy, and Law; University of Louisville - Louis D. Brandeis School of Law

Heather L. Harrell

University of Louisville - Institute for Bioethics, Health Policy, and Law

Gary E. Marchant

Arizona State University - College of Law

Date Written: August 3, 2017

Abstract

Human transmission to offspring and future generations of acquired epigenetic modifications has not been definitively established, although there are several environmental exposures with suggestive evidence. This article uses three examples of hazardous substances with greater exposures in vulnerable populations: pesticides, lead, and diesel exhaust. It then considers whether, if there were scientific evidence of transgenerational epigenetic inheritance, there would be greater attention given to concerns about environmental justice in environmental laws, regulations, and policies at all levels of government.

To provide a broader perspective on environmental justice the article discusses two of the most commonly cited approaches to environmental justice. John Rawls's theory of justice as fairness, a form of egalitarianism, is frequently invoked for the principle that differential treatment of individuals is justified only if actions are designed to benefit those with the greatest need. Another theory, the capabilities approach of Amartya Sen and Martha Nussbaum, focuses on whether essential capabilities of society, such as life and health, are made available to all individuals.

In applying principles of environmental justice the article considers whether there is a heightened societal obligation to protect the most vulnerable individuals from hazardous exposures that could adversely affect their offspring through epigenetic mechanisms. It concludes that unless there were compelling evidence of transgenerational epigenetic harms, it is unlikely that there would be a significant impetus to adopt new policies to prevent epigenetic harms by invoking principles of environmental justice.

Keywords: environmental justice, diesel exhaust, vunerable populations, epigenetic mechanisms, epigenetic harms

JEL Classification: K31, K32

Suggested Citation

Rothstein, Mark A. and Harrell, Heather L. and Marchant, Gary E., Transgenerational Epigenetics and Environmental Justice (August 3, 2017). Environmental Epigenetics 3(3) 2017. Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3028738

Mark A. Rothstein (Contact Author)

University of Louisville - Institute for Bioethics, Health Policy, and Law ( email )

Louisville, KY 40202
United States

HOME PAGE: http://www.louisville.edu/bioethics

University of Louisville - Louis D. Brandeis School of Law ( email )

Wilson W. Wyatt Hall
Louisville, KY 40292
United States

Heather L. Harrell

University of Louisville - Institute for Bioethics, Health Policy, and Law

Louisville, KY 40202
United States

Gary E. Marchant

Arizona State University - College of Law ( email )

Box 877906
Tempe, AZ 85287-7906
United States
(480) 965-3246 (Phone)
(480) 965-2427 (Fax)

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