2013 Progress Report: Center of Excellence: Environmental Health Disparities Core

EPA Grant Number: NIMHD005
Title: Center of Excellence: Environmental Health Disparities Core
Investigators: Eriksen, Michael , Casanova, Lisa , Dai, Dajun , DeoCampo, Daniel , Hankins, Katherine , Hemphill-Fuller, Christina , Stauber, Christine , Steward, John A.
Institution: Georgia State University
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: August 1, 2011 through July 31, 2014
Project Period Covered by this Report: September 22, 2012 through July 31,2013
Project Amount: $472,252
RFA: Transdisciplinary Networks of Excellence on the Environment and Health Disparities (2012) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Environmental Justice , Health


By establishing an Environmental Health Core within the Institute of Public Health’ Center of Excellence for Health Disparities Research, we are building capacity for researching environmental contributors to urban health disparities, such as water and air pollution and unequal burdens of pollution. The fundamental philosophy guiding the core will be the riskscape. This is “a holistic approach that untangles the double jeopardy of chronic stressors and environmental hazards to elucidate their role in disparities” [Gee and Payne-Sturges, 2004]. Urban populations face multiple economic and social stressors, including poverty, unemployment, discrimination, and lack of access to health care, transportation, affordable housing, quality education, and healthy foods. The Center’s focus on syndemics explores how these stressors shape disparities in the urban environment. However, they are also surrounded by stressors in their physical environment unique to the urban landscape: air pollution, lead poisoning, brownfields and other polluted areas, neighborhoods of abandoned and blighted properties, food deserts, and environmental injustices in the siting of highways, parking lots, and industrial sites. The economic and social stressors can operate to increase people’s vulnerability to these environmental risks [Morello-Frosch et al., 2001]. The complex ways in which all of these stressors operate alone and interact with each other is the urban riskscape. Disparities in the urban environment demand a holistic approach to understand all risks as an organic unit. This requires the kind of comprehensive and multidisciplinary resources that exist in the Center. The main objectives of the project are to:
  • •Develop a coalition of organizations, agencies and institutions focused on environmental health, justice, and disparities in the Atlanta area.
  • •Work with the Research and Community Engagement cores to build capacity to evaluate and mitigate environmental health risks specific to urban natural, physical, and built environments.
  • •Work with the Research Core to incorporate a multidisciplinary approach evaluating the role of environmental exposures into current Center pilot projects.
  • •Work with the Community Engagement Core to strengthen and expand research and mitigation activities focused on the environmental health priorities of the Center’s community partners.
  • •Develop an EH focus area in the current M.P.H. and Ph.D. programs in Public Health.

Progress Summary:

Developing a coalition that is focused on environmental health disparities research:
Progress: Members of the Environmental Health Core have been engaged in numerous meetings with various community organizations with interests in health disparities, environmental justice, and environmental health. We organized and administered two meetings over the past time period that were specific to environmental health issues in the Atlanta Area. The first meeting was held on February 28, 2013. This meeting involved participants from neighborhoods and community based organizations representing environmental issues within and around Atlanta. Also in attendance were faculty from the Community, Soil, Water and Air initiative at GSU which includes faculty from the department of Geosciences and the Institute of Public Health. A total of 15 members participated and discussed opportunities to identify community issues and resources available to build capacity around the issues.
We also conducted an all-day environmental health disparities workshop on April 19, 2013 at GSU. More than 30 persons from the Atlanta area attended, with all but a few present all day. Organizations represented included CDC, EPA Region IV, Federal Reserve Bank, Georgia Tech, Emory (both schools of Public Health and Medicine), Spelman, Conservation Fund, Greenlaw, Riverkeepers, English Avenue, West Atlanta Watershed Alliance, National Environmental Health Association, Design for Health, Proctor Creek Stewardship, Eco-Action, Fulton County Department of Health and Wellness, Georgia Department of Public Health, and others. The main goals of the meeting were to (1) identify priority areas to be addressed in environmental health disparities, (2) develop a better understanding of collaboration and engagement, (3) consider the need for GSU to serve a coordinating point for Atlanta area environmental health disparities research, and (4) understand and identify opportunities for engagement with community organizations. We hope to use the information from the workshop to produce a blueprint for potential Atlanta-area collaborative research in the areas of environmental health, disparities, and environmental justice. We are also currently working off of the work developed during this meeting to work together with a newly supported environmental health center at Emory (HERCULES).
The main significance of the activities to date has been the need to understand the current environmental activities that are occurring and are being supported so that we can avoid duplicating efforts and use our resources to multiply the efforts around environmental health monitoring, research and capacity building. As a result of these meetings, we are planning semi-annual meetings to continue to monitor and work on the issues identified. We are also in the process of writing a report, which we will share with all of the participants.
Work with the Research and Community Engagement cores to build capacity to evaluate and mitigate environmental health risks specific to urban natural, physical, and built environments.
We have continued our work to build capacity in three main areas:
(1) Measuring environmental contaminants with a focus on traffic related air pollutants
(2) Engage and increase capacity to do environmental health research for students and faculty members
(3) Increase capacity at the community level through workshops and pilot monitoring activities.
Measuring contaminants:
Within the Center of Excellence, we have been building our capacity to measure traffic-related air pollutants by purchasing both passive and active monitoring equipment for ambient air pollutants including NO2 and PM. We have purchased most of the equipment to be able to measure these pollutants. We developed and completed a comprehensive sampling of NO2 in four census tracts in Atlanta in October 2012. We have also employed the equipment in pilot testing in collaboration with Mothers and Others for Clean Air during installation of vegetative barriers in a school in February 2013. We have also developed course work that engaged Master of Public Health students in the use of the equipment in spring 2013.
Significance of the activities to date:
Engagement with faculty members and capacity building within the Center of Excellence and at CSAW has resulted in further development of research and teaching activities to build capacity. For example, two courses were developed where environmental monitoring has taken place. In addition, the Department of Geosciences has received equipment and support to provide inorganic testing for water and soil. This effort is being led by Dr. Dan DeoCampo with support from Georgia State University (GSU) and equipment donated from the U.S. Geological Survey (valued at over $600,000). Dr. DeoCampo is working to provide analytical services to community, academic and government partners.
Work with the Research Core to incorporate a multidisciplinary approach evaluating the role of environmental exposures into current Center pilot projects.
Two key research projects were implemented during the current project period.
1. Through the Neighborhoods Matter project, the EH core has worked in collaboration with the Department of Sociology to investigate traffic-related air pollution in diverse neighborhoods of Atlanta. Our primary goal in the study was to estimate exposures to traffic-related air pollution in neighborhoods in which public housing residents have relocated. We sampled four census tracts of varying poverty levels (low (<20%), medium-low (20-30%) medium-high (30-40%) and high (>40%)) in which residents participating in the Neighborhoods Matter study had moved. We measured nitrogen dioxide (NO2) as the marker for traffic-related air pollution by placing 30 monitors in each census tract (for a total of 120 sites overall). We recruited more than 20 university and community volunteers to install and remove the monitors in October 2012. Initial results suggest that census tracts with highest poverty levels were exposed to statistically significantly higher levels of NO2 as compared to the lower poverty census tracts during the two week time period. We have presented the initial results of this work at the meeting organized by NIMHD for those with environmental supplement in December 2012 and at a meeting held at GSU on Health Disparities (supported by the larger Center grant) in March 2013. We are currently analyzing the data and preparing to present it meetings in the fall as well as submit publications on it.
2. The second project was developed in collaboration with a community based organization Mothers and Others for Clean Air. This project, which was also supported by a grant from Kaiser Permanente to Mothers and Others for Clean Air, involved monitoring air pollutants at a school both prior to and after installation of vegetative barriers. Additional monitoring will be completed in fall 2013 to determine any impact after the vegetation has been installed for a longer time period. Students and teachers at the school were also engaged in the monitoring and installation of the vegetative barriers.
Overall significance of the results: Our initial investigation into traffic related air pollutants suggest that high traffic areas had significantly higher NO2 than low traffic areas within the <20% poverty and >40% poverty tracts. Preliminary multivariate models identify poverty level, distance to interstate highway, and average daily traffic as significant predictors of NO2. There is a significant interaction between poverty and distance to interstate highway. Our results are consistent with the siting of major roadways in high poverty areas, which leads to higher levels of traffic-related air pollution. There is an indication of an independent effect of socioeconomic condition that further analyses will elucidate more fully.

Future Activities:

  1. Continue to coordinate meeting of key stakeholders in Environmental Health in the Atlanta area for additional meetings in Fall 2013.
  2. Work with key community members to support additional community member capacity building around environmental monitoring.
  3. Continue to analyze data and develop presentations and publications to present the results of the coalition building as well as research activities of the Environmental Health Core researchers and community members.
  4. We will also continue to leverage the resources provided for the Environmental Health Core Grant to be able to apply for additional grants to enhance research, knowledge and action on environmental health disparities in Atlanta and beyond.

Journal Articles:

No journal articles submitted with this report: View all 17 publications for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

Environmental health, health disparities, urban health, community

Progress and Final Reports:

Original Abstract
  • 2012 Progress Report
  • Final Report