Environmental Justice

Environmental Justice Comes to Salt Creek

By Michael Wenstrom

Several years ago I traveled to Pueblo, Colorado in response to a request from a local resident. I was asked to sit in on a meeting to hear a discussion about the presence of a legally-permitted auto dismantling yard and aluminum smelter in a residential neighborhood. The neighborhood was Salt Creek.

Salt Creek Neighborhood, Pueblo, Colorado

Salt Creek Neighborhood, Pueblo, Colorado

The Salt Creek neighborhood contains about one hundred homes and is predominantly Latino. Most of the residents are third generation Americans of Mexican descent. Someone in the community reached out to the Region 8 Environmental Justice Program to ask for help, not knowing just what “environmental justice” was, but knowing something needed to change.

Among Salt Creek residents, there was little understanding of what government did and how and why they made the decisions they made. In this case, residents knew that things were happening in and around their community that were wrong and they wanted to know what to do to protect themselves.

Salt Creek is flanked by a steel mill which emitted more than forty percent of Colorado’s airborne mercury, and by a major coal-fired power plant and, additionally, was home to the smelter noted above.
As I sat in that meeting, in the basement of St. Joseph’s Catholic Church, listening to the community share their concerns, little did I know that this would be the beginning of a fifteen year-long odyssey. This meeting was the first of many.

Over time I learned that Salt Creek residents are strong and proud people. They persisted, even in the face of adversary.

The EJ Program began to work to help the community find its voice. We co-sponsored community meetings and invited local businesses, representatives from the city and county and from law enforcement. We talked (in English and Spanish) about what the community cared most about. In most cases, the invited guests listened and learned. In some cases, they tried to deflect the concerns and occasionally, they attempted to bully or confuse the residents. But, Salt Creek would not be deterred.

Among other things, EPA brought a Collaborative Problem Solving grant to the community, engaged with our RCRA Program to address nearby contamination, facilitated meetings with the steel mill and under an enforcement action,  $400,000 in community-based Supplemental Environmental Projects (SEPs) benefitted the neighborhood.

Together, over the years, we saw the steel mill dramatically reduce its mercury emissions, and the local power utility implement ground-breaking emissions controls. Oh, and, yes, the aluminum smelter was moved to a more appropriate location.

In that time, I became friends with some remarkable people, who began to raise their voices and make their community safer, cleaner and healthier. And, on a personal level, I was both proud and humbled by the fact that, together, we were able to make a real difference in the lives of community residents. Through collaboration, persistence and caring, I and my EPA colleagues were able to help a community transform itself.

The attached video is one example of how one Salt Creek resident helped to effect this transformation. Nadine Triste used her common sense, her network of neighbors and, support from the EPA to make a difference. Because of Nadine, and others like her, Salt Creek is forever changed.

 

About the author: Michael Wenstrom has been working in the Region 8 Environmental Justice Program for almost twenty years. In that time, he has focused on working in communities facing an amazing variety of environmental insults and challenges. Most recently, he has been assisting Region 5 in its ongoing work to assist the residents of Flint, Michigan to address their immediate concerns relating to the water crisis and other threats to their environment and their health.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Pretty, Polished Cities: They Don’t Happen Without Caring Communities

By Kathleen Fenton

One of the greatest thrills of environmental and sustainability work is the completed project. Often times, a project can take years to complete. Recently, I attended the Mid-America Regional Council’s (MARC’s) ninth annual Sustainable Success Stories event where we learned about some of the end results. It revealed to me just how clever and resourceful community leaders are.

Smart Growth Program LogoAt the MARC event, more than 100 city planners, nonprofits, investors, federal, state and city partners from the Kansas City metro area gathered to hear about smart growth projects that have made a significant difference socially, economically and/or environmentally – the “three legs of the sustainability stool.”

sustainability stoolWe heard about eight 2016 honorees who spearheaded projects across the metro area, from Mission, Kan., to Grandview, Mo., and from Kansas City, Kan., (KCK) to its sister city across the river, Kansas City, Mo. (KCMO).

These projects ranged from stormwater management, a new public transit system, land and streetscape beautifications to the building of new rental and single-family homes in the Ivanhoe District of KCMO. These homes, some built from the ashes of a school burned down by an arsonist, gave new purpose to vacant lots by providing affordable housing to Ivanhoe residents, including cottages designed specifically for low-income seniors. Another project led to the creation of beautiful new walking paths for KCK residents, where nine new walking clubs have started.

Speakers at the event focused on the importance of community-based planning, described their tenacious leaders, and discussed the need for constant, open communication channels between citizens, planners and construction crews.

They emphasized the professional skill it takes to research and collect the various appropriate types of funding for sustainability projects. This is a chore unto itself! I was pleased that EPA Region 7 staff had a seat at many of these planning tables, and were given a shout-out as a partner representing our Brownfield Technical Assessment funding, stormwater management work, and Environmental Justice small grants, just to name a few of our available planning and funding resources.

Cyclist on bike path

Winter cyclist on bicycle path

City planners also spoke about many of their trials and tribulations. Measuring the impact of these changes isn’t always clear or simple, immediately following the completion of these projects. But noticeable improvements and successes can already be seen.

More buildings are now being constructed in the planning areas, and additional dollars have been spent upgrading others. Not only is there an increased number of families moving back into the inner cities, but there are waiting lists to gain access to inner city housing.

Summer art festivals feature newly-constructed sidewalks compliant with the Americans with Disabilities Act, and bicycle paths are safely marked for fun and transportation. Now these areas are teeming with crowds during weekends and summer events.

But when these partners described their completed projects, what rang out was the overwhelming community support and appreciation of everyone’s hard work. The love and dedication to their jobs and to their communities was crystal clear. Now all of them move on to their next projects, ones that will continue to improve the quality of life in our cities.

Pollinator garden

Pollinator garden

Our cities, just like our homes, will always need constant attention and maintenance. What these success stories prove to me is how prepared, practical and stalwart many public servants must be to keep our cities not only pretty and polished, but also functional, thrifty and forward-thinking.

So the next time you ride on that new bike path, walk in a well-designed park, visit a pollinator garden, purchase a new home in a revitalized neighborhood, or wonder why your downtown doesn’t flood anymore, you might ask yourself, “How did this happen? Who did this?”

The answer is often not just one, but many community leaders, public servants, investors, and concerned citizens who care about their communities and want to leave them just a little bit better for future generations.

For More Information:

Resources for Local Officials and Community Members
EPA Region 7 Communities Information Digest

About the Author: Kathleen L. Fenton serves as the environmental education program coordinator in EPA Region 7’s Office of Public Affairs. She has worked with communities on environmental health issues, environmental education, and Healthy Schools projects for over 20 years.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

EPA Science: Providing the Foundation for Environmental Justice

By Fred Hauchman and Andrew Geller

the cover of the EJ 2020 action agendaYesterday, the Agency released the EJ 2020 Action Agenda, outlining our strategic plan to advance environmental justice for the next five years and set a course for greatly reducing or eliminating environmental health disparities for generations to come. The overall vision is to bring the promise of a clean, healthy, and more sustainable environment to everyone in the country, no matter where they live, work, play, or learn.

The plan recognizes that while we have made great progress improving the quality of air, water, and land over the past 40-plus years, there are far too many people who still face serious impacts and risks from exposures to environmental pollutants. We know that the people most affected are disproportionately from economically disadvantaged and minority communities. That’s not acceptable. As EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy has stated, “Everyone deserves to have their health protected from environmental exposures.”

As always, science is critical to making that health protection a reality. That’s why the EJ 2020 Action Agenda includes an explicit commitment by the Agency to conduct and support collaborative, community-based research. This approach is needed to not only better understand the complex, interrelated factors that lead to disproportionate environmental and related public health burdens, but to provide citizens with the information, data, and tools they need to fully participate in making the decisions that affect their communities and take action.

We will continue to develop and improve innovative decision support tools that help public health officials, citizen groups, researchers, and others identify and prioritize environmental concerns and assess cumulative impacts. This includes tools such as EnviroAtlas, the Community Cumulative Assessment Tool, and the recently released Community-Focused Exposure Risk and Screening Tool, (C-FERST).   It also includes EPA’s Tribal Science effort, recognizing EPA’s responsibilities to America’s indigenous peoples and our shared role in building the capacity for the sovereign tribes to construct environmental programs that serve their nations. This suite of resources provides robust online mapping and visualization capabilities, extensive databases, case studies, and customizable applications.

Our researchers work closely with EPA’s Regions, local communities and stakeholder groups to continually improve and upgrade these and other EPA tools and resources, hold workshops and seminars, and solicit feedback. Such community engagement is key. Frequent, two-way communication with our community partners helps teams identify the highest priorities early. Together we can tailor research strategies that in the end will deliver the information and decision support needed to make lasting, visible local impact.

Another area where science and research are providing the foundation for actions to address environmental justice concerns is through the development of innovative environmental monitoring tools. Our researchers are helping usher in a new generation of low-cost, portable environmental sensors—empowering communities to collect and monitor conditions in their air, water, and other environmental media.

As outlined in EJ 2020: “New technologies and sensors have the potential to supplement regulatory monitoring, provide information on operating processes to facility managers and inspectors, and enable community engagement in the measurement of local pollution through the use of affordable, easy-to-use analytical tools (citizen science).” This emphasizes that citizen science advances environmental protection by helping local communities understand local problems and collect quality data that can be used to advocate for or solve environmental and health issues.

We are committed to providing the science and engineering solutions needed to realize that potential.  It’s part of our strategy to ensure that the benefits of environmental protection reach every community across the country. That’s the promise of EPA research, and what every American deserves.

 

About the Authors: Fred Hauchman, Ph.D., is the Director of the Office of Science Policy, which is the lead organization for integrating, coordinating, and communicating scientific and technical information and advice across EPA’s Office of Research and Development (ORD), and between ORD and the agency’s programs, regions, and external parties.

 

Andrew Geller, Ph.D., is the Acting National Program Director for the Agency’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities (SHC) research program. SHC researchers are working to provide the knowledge, data, and tools local communities and others need to advance a more sustainable, healthy, and vibrant future. A major priority is delivering the research needed to support environmental justice.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Developing Green Job Opportunities in Brownfields-Impacted Communities

The first seeds of brownfields job training—and of the brownfields program itself—emerged in the early 1990s, reflecting our growing concern for environmental equity (now known as environmental justice). Back then, we provided funds for the assessment and cleanup of abandoned and potentially contaminated sites through brownfields grants. The funds brought job opportunities to those communities where the assessments and cleanups were taking place, but there was one problem. The jobs were going to environmental professionals from other cities because, more times than not, local residents lacked the environmental training these jobs demanded.

So in 1998, based on the urging of local community and environmental justice leaders, we launched the brownfields job training program. We wanted to help ensure that individuals from communities who had dealt with the high unemployment, poverty, historic disinvestment and health disparities that came along with brownfields, could be qualified to take advantage of the job opportunities created when cleaning up these sites. The program simultaneously served as a ladder of opportunity for residents from some of the most economically distressed communities in America for jobs, and one of the first green jobs programs. That first year, we awarded eleven brownfields job training pilots, and by 1999 the program produced its first 100 graduates.

Since 1998, the program has evolved and is now referred to as the Environmental Workforce Development and Job Training (EWDJT) program. The program provides funding to grantees so they can recruit, train, and place unemployed and severely under-employed individuals from these impacted communities in long-term environmental careers. These individuals are single mothers, low-income individuals, minorities, dislocated workers, tribal residents, ex-offenders, veterans, and other individuals with extreme barriers to employment. At this point, more than 14,700 individuals from communities historically affected by environmental pollution have been trained and more than 10,600 have been placed in environmental jobs throughout the country.

The EWDJT program is intended to not only help revitalize the land, but also transform the lives of those living on it. It is with great pleasure that we announce today the selection of 18 new entities that are aiming to do just that. We are awarding approximately $3.5 million in new EWDJT grants. We see this investment as a great way to more directly involve affected communities in their own revitalization.

View this year’s EWDJT selections

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Teaching to Lead

By Malavika Sahai and Jonathan Leslie

About the Authors: Malavika Sahai and Jonathan Leslie were summer interns at EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice. Malavika is studying Environmental Policy and Planning and Geography at Virginia Tech.  Jonathan is studying Economics and Political Science at the University of Notre Dame.  Both will be graduating in Spring 2016.

2015 EPA Intern EJ Wkshp

At 8:30 a.m. on a hot summer day, interns from across EPA’s headquarters filed into a training room to dedicate their morning to a workshop about environmental justice. We found ourselves rushing at the last minute to pull at least a dozen more chairs around tables to accommodate a surge of attendees eager to learn about environmental justice.  By 9:00 a.m., the room was packed with more than 70 young people representing a wide range of law schools and undergraduate universities united in their passion for environmental protection.

Last summer, EPA’s Office of Environmental Justice hosted its first annual EPA Intern Environmental Justice Workshop to share information about environmental justice to an up-and-coming generation of environmental leaders.  Beyond offering an overview of environmental justice – its history, goals, and the current scope of the movement – OEJ wanted to start a dialogue with young people spending a summer interning at EPA on how to be a part of the workforce that contributes to environmental decision-making.

The workshop opened with a bit of a self-assessment, with attendees offering up personal definitions of “environmental justice.” It was clear that the audience generally understood the context of the environmental justice movement and the importance of protecting underserved communities against environmental hazards. However, over the next four hours, the scope of their knowledge was expanded beyond basic statements about equity to  a more personal, more resonant message about how they could help bring about environmental justice.

During the course of the workshop, we learned about environmental justice from a variety of perspectives.  Multiple speakers both from within EPA and others working locally to address issues in their own communities, discussed their work to extend environmental protection to underserved communities.  They emphasized that environmental justice is neither just an office at EPA nor is it merely a movement that is happening somewhere else.  Rather, it is an awareness that must be present in every decision that we make, that full environmental protection cannot be achieved without incorporating the voices and concerns of local residents and advocates during every step of the process.  Dr. Jalonne White-Newsome of WeACT noted that as we seek sustainable solutions to new environmental problems resulting from climate change, we must also ascertain that these solutions are equally sustainable for all populations.

The wide-ranging discourse shared an underlying message: that the federal government cannot make accurate and informed decisions for protecting overburdened and underserved communities all by itself. Communities must play an active role in actions to extend environmental protection to their neighborhoods, because each community can be uniquely resilient as a result of facing multiple challenges armed with the specific knowledge of local priorities and needs.

The workshop ended as it started, with the question that began the event: “What does environmental justice mean to you”? As interns texted in answers, their responses were displayed on a screen in real time.  It was clear that a single message now resonated for most of the attendees: that community, education, and equity are crucial to informing environmental work.

As the crop of summer interns left the room, we were confident that this up-and-coming generation of environmental leaders who attended the workshop had taken their first steps toward integrating environmental justice into their work:  to be mindful to actively listen, to engage all involved individuals, and to seek external input at every level in the decision-making process.

Strong lessons indeed extend environmental justice into their futures, within their own communities, and throughout their chosen careers.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Navajo Nation Highlights the Value of the Environmental Justice

by Arthur “Butch” Blazer

About the author: Butch Blazer serves as the U.S. Department of Agriculture Under Secretary for Natural Resources and Environment. Previously, he had served as the first Native American appointed as “State Forester” of New Mexico. [cross-posted from the USDA Blog on January 29, 2016]

 

thur “Butch” Blazer and colleagues on a tour of Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona led by Michelle Curry. Diné College is a community college serving the Navajo Nation.

Arthur “Butch” Blazer and colleagues on a tour of Diné College in Tsaile, Arizona led by Michelle Curry. Diné College is a community college serving the Navajo Nation.

I recently traveled to New Mexico and Arizona to visit with local Navajo government leaders, Tribal College officials, and community members to hear about life on the Navajo Reservation. Michael Burns, from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), was also there to discuss an important new collaboration, the College/Underserved Community Partnership Program (CUPP).

CUPP develops partnerships between underserved communities and geographically close colleges and universities to provide technical support through faculty, students and staff at no cost to those communities. One of my top priorities is for USDA to help EPA expand the CUPP program to involve Tribal communities and colleges to advance the cause of environmental justice.

The first step in establishing these community-to-college relationships is asking community members what type of assistance they need. We help bring everyone together and facilitate how to better meet these local needs in a creative way that also provides hands-on, real-world experience for the students and faculty in the region.

Mr. Burns described some exciting examples of CUPP program successes so far, such as how Tuskegee University architecture students developed an alternate transportation plan for the Selma to Montgomery Voting Rights Trail area that also improves access for families to food, health facilities and employment opportunities in rural Alabama.

In New Mexico, we met with the leaders of the Nenahnezad, San Juan, Shiprock, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad, Tsé Daa K’aan and Upper Fruitland chapters of Navajo Nation. The Navajo chapter leaders were interested in how we could bring the CUPP program to their communities and involve students from local Tribal Colleges in delivering assistance. Community members also explained that bringing in Tribal College students would provide great role models for other Tribal youth and help develop strong mentoring relationships as well.

We hope to have several Tribal college CUPP partnerships by the spring 2016 semester.

The Navajo chapter leaders also told us about progress being made thanks to a recent USDA Rural Business Development Grant. The grant to Capacity Builders Inc., a local nonprofit, helps them deliver training for chapter officials and community members on how to identify, nurture and fund local business opportunities. This work helps the six chapters support and invest in businesses that create well-paying jobs and improve the quality of life for Tribal families. This is one of 28 such grants totaling $4.3 million Rural Development invested in Tribal communities to support business and regional economic development last year.

In Michigan, USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service recently used 2014 Farm Bill conservation programs to help two Anishinaabe tribes increase production of wild rice. Wild rice, or manoomin, serves as a staple of the Anishinaabe diet and is culturally and spiritually important to them. USDA’s Food and Nutrition Service and the USDA Center for Faith-Based and Neighborhood Partnerships are collaborating on nutrition projects that reduce high rates of food insecurity and help Latino communities meet their health goals through La Mesa Completa.

Support for CUPP along with investments and technical assistance like these highlight just a few of the many ways that USDA partners with local organizations to meet the goals in the Department’s 2016-2020 Environmental Justice Strategic Plan—and ensure that the place someone is born doesn’t determine her destiny.

Our draft Environmental Justice Strategic Plan for 2016-2020 and information on how to submit your comments are available on our Environmental Justice homepage and we encourage your input. The public comment period ends Feb. 14, 2016.

Michael Burns from EPA and USDA Deputy Undersecretary Arthur “Butch” Blazer meet with leaders of the Nenahnezad, San Juan, Shiprock, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad, Tsé Daa K’aan and Upper Fruitland chapters of Navajo Nation regarding Federal environmental justice programs.

Michael Burns from EPA and USDA Deputy Undersecretary Arthur “Butch” Blazer meet with leaders of the Nenahnezad, San Juan, Shiprock, Tiis Tsoh Sikaad, Tsé Daa K’aan and Upper Fruitland chapters of Navajo Nation regarding Federal environmental justice programs.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Making a Visible Difference through Citizen Science

By Laura Stewart

About the author: Laura Stewart is an Oak Ridge Institute of Science and Education (ORISE) research participant in the EPA Region 10 office.

My first citizen science project was in 1999; working on a United Nations-funded project in Swaziland. In a poor community near a paper mill, we worked to address environmental and local health concerns due to the plant’s emissions. As a result of the youth-led project, the factory extended the height of its smoke stakes to disperse the emissions, which improved air quality. Seeing this interplay between environmental science and social justice changed my life.

Me (in all black) with the Swaziland "bucket brigade."

Me (in all black) with the Swaziland “bucket brigade.”

Today, science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) related jobs are some of the fastest growing sectors in the United States, growing to an estimated 9 million jobs by 2022.

Despite this projected growth, diversity in these fields is decreasing. Since 1991, 12 percent fewer women are earning computer science degrees. According to a National Science Foundation report, 8 percent of Hispanics and 4 percent of African Americans earned bachelors degrees in engineering, and currently people of color make up less than 20 percent of staff in the nation’s environmental organizations.

I believe these trends are creating the potential for a fundamental problem in trying to solve environmental and health challenges – how can we make a visible difference in low-income and minority communities when people from those communities are not taking part in STEM? I believe using citizen science at the community level provides a great answer to this problem.

Citizen science is the involvement of regular people in the discovery of scientific knowledge. Citizen scientists come from all walks of life, harnessing the power of information towards a common goal.

Here at EPA, I’m working on a community-based research project testing the beta version of a new EPA resource, the Community-Focused Exposure and Risk Screening Tool (C-FERST). C-FERST is a web-based environmental information and mapping tool that EPA researchers are developing where communities can identify, understand, and address local-scale sources of environmental exposure, thus becoming a part of the expanding pool of citizen scientists:

  • In Tacoma, Washington we used C-FERST with local government, a nonprofit organization, and a local college to look into food access, houselessness and infant mortality.
  • At Portland Community College, students assessed disproportionate impact, environmental justice concerns and air quality.
  • At Concordia University, social work students used the tool to interpret the real-life implications of environmental data for an upcoming project that focuses on creating safer, healthier, and more educated communities.
  • At Groundwork Portland, youth in a summer employment program used the tool for a livability study. By using C-FERST information about brownfields and air quality, students were able to inform their field research and advocate for equitable development practices in one of their city’s urban growth corridors.
  • In Seattle, we partnered with Antioch University to train their Masters of Urban Environmental Education graduates to use C-FERST to develop culturally-responsive curricula. As part of a STEM summer program at Garfield High School in Seattle, C-FERST was used to teach high school and middle school children of color about environmental justice issues including food justice, urban blight, and transit access. Students learned to conduct a community assessment, create and upload GIS map layers, and envision interim uses for vacant properties in their community.

Citizen Scientiest Groundwork Portland

I believe citizen science dares us to recognize how power imbalances affect the unique experiences of communities and people’s abilities to positively change their communities. Citizen science gives us the opportunity to return that power back into the hands of communities, potentially changing lives, not just the immediate results from science projects, but engaging members of these communities in the long term power of STEM disciplines and what they can bring to their communities.

What is your community doing to make a visible difference through citizen science?

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Building Bridges: Environmental Justice

By Andrew Geller, Ph.D.

I know I’m not alone in that I’ve found my mind wandering a bit this week eagerly anticipating my plans for Thanksgiving festivities. Whether you are like me and will be travelling to visit family elsewhere, or rushing to get a big bird in the oven in time for hosting others, the best part of Thanksgiving is seeing friends and family.

And of course, catching up always includes talking about what we’ve been up to at work over the past year or so.

As an EPA scientist immersed in the broad, and sometimes hard-to-explain arena of research designed to advance sustainable and healthy communities, I find Thanksgiving a good opportunity to hone my science communication skills. Once I remember to drop the acronyms and jargon and engage my 90-plus-year-old father in a casual conversation about EPA research, I know I’ve done a good job.

Just this week, I got an assist from my local paper. The headline in the Durham Herald-Sun immediately grabbed my attention: “Community activists tackle ‘environmental justice’ issues in Durham.”

Providing data and scientific tools to advance environmental justice—ensuring that every community enjoys the same degree of protection from environmental and health hazards and has equal access to the decision-making processes it takes to have a healthy environment—is a top EPA priority.

As the article points out, moving environmental justice from a process to action depends on resources such as visualization tools that communities and other stakeholders can use to pinpoint how particular neighborhoods might be disproportionately impacted by proposed actions.

EnviroAtlas showing urban tree cover of Durham, NC.

EnviroAtlas showing urban tree cover of Durham, NC.

EPA’s researchers are delivering just those kinds of resources. For example, our EnviroAtlas is a web-based mapping tool built on a robust platform of more than 300 data sets that help users explore place-based environmental conditions and impacts. It is designed to help us all to see and make decisions about the many benefits we derive from natural ecosystems themselves and in relation to our built environment and the people who live in a community.  The Eco-Health Relationship Browser, part of EnviroAtlas, illustrates scientific evidence for linkages between human health and ecosystem services.

Users can use both of these resources, and others, to see how local conditions differ from surrounding areas, and to find potential solutions to existing challenges.

One place that has already made great progress is the Proctor Creek neighborhood in Atlanta. The city and local civic groups partnered with EPA’s Regional Office and Agency researchers to conduct a Health Impact Assessment, a systematic process to guide investigations on how to maximize the health and well-being benefits (or minimize the detrimental impacts) of a proposed action.

In the case of Proctor Creek, EPA researchers and the Region produced a Health Impact Assessment to help the community reduce flooding and the contamination associated with combined sewer overflows through the use of innovative techniques that increase or mimic the natural ability of ecosystems to absorb and cleanse storm water runoff, collectively known as “green infrastructure.”  This solution has the added benefit of adding shade and green space to sun-baked streets, increasing walkability and the attractiveness of the area to local businesses to raise the local economy.

Those are just a couple of examples that I can point to where EPA research is advancing environmental justice and making a visible difference in communities. I’m eager to share more here on the blog, and even with local reporters, in the near future. But first I have to pack for a trip to see the family.

About the Author: Dr. Andrew Geller is the Deputy National Program Director for EPA’s Sustainable and Healthy Communities (SHC) research program and lead author on EPA’s Environmental Justice Research Roadmap.  Dr. Geller led SHC’s strategic planning effort to develop science and tools to help communities identify and reach sustainability goals.  Andrew can often be found riding a bike across the trails, fields, or roads of Durham NC and the surrounding area.

 

 

 

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

Coming to the Table: The Importance of a Multi-Stakeholder Dialogue on Climate Justice

A diverse range of federal and local stakeholders engage in discussions about the health effects of climate change on vulnerable populations. Photo: HHS
A diverse range of federal and local stakeholders engage in discussions about the health effects of climate change on vulnerable populations.
Photo: HHS

By Timothy Fields, Jr.

About the author: Timothy Fields, Jr. is Senior Vice President of MDB, Inc., a public health and environmental management consulting firm in Washington, D.C. Previously, Tim served as EPA Assistant Administrator in charge of environmental cleanup, waste management, and emergency response (1997-2001).

Climate change is one of the major public health challenges of our time.  Certain individuals and communities are especially vulnerable, including children, the elderly, the sick, low-income residents, and people of color.  As the conversation about climate change has grown, a new emphasis on climate justice has emerged, focusing on the health impacts of climate change on vulnerable communities.  Climate justice has become a high priority focus of the environmental justice movement.

Recent calls for action to address the public health dangers of climate change have been joined by leaders such as President Barack Obama, Pope Francis, EPA Administrator Gina McCarthy, and U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Vivek Murthy.  They and many other leaders agree that climate change is impacting communities across the country and around the globe, particularly those communities already disproportionately impacted by environmental hazards and social conditions.

This June, more than 100 people from a variety of government agencies, community organizations, academic institutions, and businesses came together in North Carolina to discuss the health effects of climate change as they relate to vulnerable populations.  Convened by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS), the 2015 HHS Climate Justice Conference encouraged stakeholders to share community challenges and priorities, as well as promising approaches and opportunities for collaboration for responding to emerging health effects.

Although the conference focused on the strategic elements described in the 2012 HHS Environmental Justice Strategy and Implementation Plan, the dialogue reflected the larger conversation around climate justice.  Federal staff highlighted federal efforts to build climate resilience and promote climate justice.  Representatives of community groups not only offered on-the-ground examples of how climate change is impacting vulnerable communities, they pointed to how they are mobilizing to educate and empower communities to take action. Other stakeholders discussed tools and resources designed to help communities better understand the health impacts of climate change and become more resilient to these impacts.

Key themes highlighted during the conference include:

  • All stakeholders have a role in responding to the emerging health threats of climate change.
  • Community organizations and environmental justice representatives are mobilizing to educate and empower communities to take action.
  • Vulnerable communities need to be actively involved as programs, policies, and activities are developed and implemented to ensure climate justice.
  • Strategies are needed regarding how federal agencies could provide additional resources to increase the capacity of communities to address climate justice concerns.
  • Mechanisms should be developed to support workers who live and work in communities disproportionately affected by environmental hazards and are most vulnerable to climate change impacts.
  • Relationships with communities should be established as climate change research is conducted, employing mechanisms such as citizen science and community-engaged research to help empower communities to develop useful information.

Participants also discussed the need to achieve more equitable distribution of technical and financial assistance in the face of limited local resources for addressing climate change.  To achieve this, it is important that government agencies better coordinate and share information about climate resiliency services.

The 2015 HHS Climate Justice Conference is part of the ongoing dialogue about environmental justice and climate change, occurring 21 years after the signing of the Presidential Executive Order on Environmental Justice and two years after the issuance of President Obama’s Climate Action Plan.  The dialogue among all stakeholders about climate justice and public health must continue.  I encourage you to continue to engage and take appropriate actions to address the health impacts of climate change.

Check out the 2015 HHS Climate Justice Conference Report and other conference materials, including a video from the meeting: https://tools.niehs.nih.gov/conference/hhs_climate_justice/

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.

EPA Continues Support for Local Preparedness/Prevention Activities

By Mathy Stanislaus

In 2014, after several catastrophic chemical facility incidents, I represented EPA as a Tri-Chair for the creation of The Report for the President, Actions to Improve Chemical Facility Safety and Security – A Shared Commitment, to recognize the central role of local community preparedness to advance safety of chemical plants. Local communities – working through Local Emergency Planning Committees (LEPCs) and State Emergency Response Commissions (SERCs) – are the lynchpin to advancing safety of chemical plants, as well as other hazards such as the transport of chemicals and oil by rail. Under the Emergency Planning and Community Right-to-know Act (EPCRA), these local and state organizations receive information from more than 400,000 chemical plants about the volumes and hazards of chemicals. (This contrasts with the 12,500 chemical plants that we have direct oversight through the Risk Management Planning Program.) They then have the responsibility to analyze the information and develop plans for the safety of their communities from chemical plant accidents, working with local community members and organizations, as well as representatives from the chemical plants.

Enhancing Local Planning under EPCRA

To strengthen local planning efforts, we released a new guide for LEPCs that encourages collaboration through outreach to facilities, illustrating the importance of public safety and the need to comply with EPCRA, as well as steps that can be taken to prevent chemical accidents. This guide discusses the requirements of the EPCRA, roles and responsibilities of the various partners involved in local preparedness efforts, how to develop an emergency response plan, tools for planning and response, and how to enhance community engagement and public access to information. LEPCs and Tribal Emergency Planning Committees (TEPCs) play a key role in meeting the goals of EPCRA.

Public Engagement

We also recognize that members of the public have a role to play in assisting the LEPC or TEPC to understand the unique needs of the community regarding communication about the chemical risks and emergency response procedures. For example, individuals with special medical needs, such as the elderly, disabled/handicapped, children, and those with transportation challenges. Tailoring outreach to meet the specific considerations of the local community enables effective participation in the planning process and an efficient response to ensure safety of the public.

LEPCs and TEPCs notify the public of their activities and hold public meetings to discuss the emergency plan with the community, educate the public about chemical risks, and share information on what is to be done during an emergency (i.e., evacuation or shelter-in-place). LEPCs and TEPCs ensure procedures are in place for notifying the public when a chemical accident occurs (via reverse 911 or other system) and that the public understands what to do when they receive that information.
We’re also working with industry associations to develop and distribute similar communications to plant managers and process safety officials to clarify their role and responsibilities in engaging LEPCs and communities in emergency preparedness and response planning efforts. Efforts focusing on community involvement, evacuation and shelter-in-place planning, environmental justice issues, and vulnerable populations are critical to enhancing chemical facility safety, for both employees and the surrounding communities. It takes engagement from all partners to make an impactful change and increase chemical facility safety for those working in and living around hundreds of thousands of chemical plants around the nation.

While we are aware of extensive engagement in communities throughout the nation to collectively address the issues mentioned above, we recognize that there are communities where industry, government, and community partners would benefit from support from the EPA in strengthening their local efforts. I understand this importance and encourage communities to utilize existing tools and resources to work together to achieve local goals.

Tools and Resources

To assist state, tribal, and local agencies in collecting, managing, and using this information, we worked with National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) to create the Computer-Aided Management of Emergency Operations (CAMEO). CAMEO (http://www2.epa.gov/cameo) is a system of software applications used to plan for and respond to chemical emergencies. CAMEO assists chemical emergency planners and responders to access, store, and evaluate information critical for developing emergency plans. CAMEO is updated frequently to address needs raised by users throughout the nation. The most recent upgrades will help support local communities and first responders in their planning efforts.

Together, we can work to continue to strengthen the preparedness and prevention efforts in our communities. We are committed to continuing our support to all of you working every day to protect human health and the environment.

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Editor's Note: The opinions expressed herein are those of the author alone. EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog, nor does EPA endorse the opinions or positions expressed. You may share this post. However, please do not change the title or the content. If you do make changes, please do not attribute the edited title or content to EPA or the author.

EPA's official web site is www.epa.gov. Some links on this page may redirect users from the EPA website to a non-EPA, third-party site. In doing so, EPA is directing you only to the specific content referenced at the time of publication, not to any other content that may appear on the same webpage or elsewhere on the third-party site, or be added at a later date.

EPA is providing this link for informational purposes only. EPA cannot attest to the accuracy of non-EPA information provided by any third-party sites or any other linked site. EPA does not endorse any non-government websites, companies, internet applications or any policies or information expressed therein.