Citizen Science in our Region

By Patricia Sheridan

EPA Regional Administrator, Judith Enck, kicks off a Citizen Science Workshop.

EPA Regional Administrator, Judith Enck, kicks off a Citizen Science Workshop.

Citizen Science. Two words that worked their way into the EPA Region 2 vernacular in 2009. Highlighted by the massive explosion at the Caribbean Petroleum Corporation (CAPECO) oil storage facility near San Juan, Puerto Rico leading the community downwind to actively conduct air monitoring in their neighborhood; and the grassroots community-led air monitoring effort in Western New York using a bucket brigade to successfully champion an enforcement action to reduce benzene emissions at the Tonawanda Coke Corporation, citizen science found a home. Citizen Science became one of the Regional Administrator’s top priorities in 2010 to help engage and empower communities to collect their own data and advocate for their own health concerns.

Shortly after, the EPA established a regional Citizen Science Workgroup to drive this effort. Informational interviews were conducted with community groups, environmental justice groups, non-governmental organizations and academia to identify community needs and concerns setting the stage for the inaugural EPA Citizen Science Workshops held in the New York City and New Jersey regional offices in June 2012.

Feedback from the workshops focused on two areas: having citizen science data taken seriously while providing tools to do so, and funding opportunities. The region hosted an EPA MyEnvironment (GIS-based tool) webinar in early March 2013. This was followed by a quality assurance training seminar series on producing credible data held in the regional offices and Buffalo, New York in late spring. As an outgrowth of the workshops, regional grants and national funding sources were identified and secured to support state volunteer monitoring efforts. This was highlighted by four community organizations, two in New York and two in New Jersey, being awarded grants in 2013. The projects involved using sampling equipment loaned from EPA to monitor pathogens and water quality on tributaries of the NY/NJ Harbor.

The region continued its outreach throughout the remainder of the year creating the Region 2 Citizen Science Website to aid community groups and citizen scientists. In 2014, EPA turned its focus to bringing the Citizen Science Program to its territorial and academic partners in the Caribbean where resources are limited and often insufficient to address the immense health and environmental needs of the area. Partnering with EPA’s Caribbean Science Consortium, a two-day workshop was held in late summer at the University of Puerto Rico’s Rio Piedras Campus. The workshop brought EPA experts, government, academia and community groups to discuss current science activities in the Caribbean, and explore how communities can seek solutions to environmental and public health issues.

The EPA Regional Citizen Science Program welcomes our citizen scientists in an effort to better understand and protect our environment. By involving the community and providing the tools to increase the quality of the data collected and assist in its interpretation, we can work together to achieve our common goals. The key to the success of any and all Citizen Science projects lies in the effective and open communication and coordination between all partners.

About the Author: Pat currently serves as the citizen science coordinator in Region 2, and has been with EPA Region 2’s Division of Environmental Science and Assessment as an Environmental Scientist in the Superfund and Brownfields Program for over 26 years.