Transgenerational epigenetics and environmental justice

Mark A. Rothstein, Heather L. Harrell, Gary E. Marchant

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

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.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Article numberdvx011
JournalEnvironmental Epigenetics
Volume3
Issue number3
DOIs
StatePublished - Jul 1 2017

Keywords

  • distributive justice
  • environmental justice
  • epigenetics
  • hazardous exposures
  • transgenerational epigenetics

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Genetics
  • Molecular Biology
  • Health, Toxicology and Mutagenesis
  • Genetics(clinical)

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