Discipline: Technology and Engineering
Subcategory: Environmental Engineering
Harold J. Rickenbacker - University of Pittsburgh
Co-Author(s): Fred Brown, Homewood Children?s Village; Melissa Bilec, University of Pittsburgh
The dumping of 120 million pounds of soil contaminated with PCBs in Warren County, NC – the county with the highest proportion of African Americans – sparked a social movement and is most notably known for the rise of interest in environmental justice research (Mohai et al. 2009). Moreover, hundreds of studies have documented a higher burden of environmental contamination from industrial and consumer practices in low-income and minority communities, which result in crippling health disparities and economic disinvestment that plague these communities for generations to come. To this end, our research team recognized the need for an extensive outreach and embedded community training approach to increase the environmental consciousness of underserved populations, and therefore developed and implemented a neighborhood initiative, the Environmental Justice Community Alert Matrix (EJCAM). EJCAM was designed to educate underprivileged residents about?environmental sustainability topics while leveraging access to local organizations committed to addressing environmental justice issues. Ambient air quality measurement tools and resident training programs were used to deepen residents’ ability to assess and prioritize, through an environmental lens, risk factors that have current and long-term impacts on quality of life.
Incorporating citizen science aspects into our method, we piloted and implemented a resident-inclusive mobile air monitoring bicycle campaign; commercially available particle counters were retrofitted to bicycles and the associated data used to develop predictive GIS maps of particulate matter (PM) dispersion throughout Pittsburgh. Elevated levels of PM2.5 were found near auto body shops, adjacent to high volume roads, and along construction zones. To educate and empower local residents through community engagement, we spearheaded the Urban Transition Cities Movement (UTCM) workshop and Community Action Team (CAT) trainings designed to mobilize residents through pre- and post- education strategies that incorporate the longer-term efficacy of multifaceted environmental interventions. Follow-up assessments determine a statistical significance in the difference of the means, defining quantitative measures of success and growth in green literacy. Our research adds value to environmental justice research through the development of a replicable framework that: (1) includes multivariate analysis and a method for clustering communities as prioritized areas of investment; (2) aims to further promote air quality awareness through citizen science and ambient air quality measurement tools; and (3) integrates extensive training workshops co-facilitated by vulnerable subpopulations. Future work includes seasonal indoor air quality assessments in the East End of Pittsburgh, to act as remediative consultation for homeowners disproportionately impacted by environmental contamination.
Funder Acknowledgement(s): We would like to acknowledge the Mascaro Center for Sustainable Innovation at the University of Pittsburgh, the Heinz Endowments, and the Kingsley Association for their financial and provided logistic support. This material is based upon work funded by the National Science Foundation under the EFRI-SEED (161996) grant and supplement (1038139) awards.
Faculty Advisor: Melissa Bilec, firstname.lastname@example.org
Role: I am the primary author and research lead on this project. I completed all of the above research task and findings.