Transgenerational Epigenetics and Environmental Justice
Environmental Epigenetics 3(3) 2017
12 Pages Posted: 10 Sep 2017
Date Written: August 3, 2017
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: Suggested Citation