Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards Community Engagement Core
The Community Engagement Core (CEC) at NYU Langone’s Center for the Investigation of Environmental Hazards, or NYU CIEH, coordinates meaningful community and stakeholder engagement with diverse environmentally impacted communities throughout the New York City metropolitan area, with a particular emphasis on areas of south and north Brooklyn.
We exchange and disseminate a range of culturally appropriate strategies and products in multidirectional community–stakeholder–academic partnerships and build capacity in environmental health and translational research. We effectively translate, communicate, and distribute critical environmental health sciences information and scientific research findings to communities at risk for environmental contamination and resulting health disparities.
We engage in a dynamic process that facilitates exchange and engagement by doing the following:
- leveraging stakeholder engagement and building community capacity and infrastructure of populations facing environmental issues aligned with our center’s research that leads to sustained community health improvement
- conducting effective and meaningful community-engaged activities and inclusive citizen science guided by the Community Stakeholder Advisory Board consisting of community members, community-based organization leaders, and local officials in Gowanus, Red Hook, and Sunset Park
- disseminating and translating the center’s research findings into community-centered actionable information, programs, and policies to reduce exposure and improve public health and environmental health literacy
Our center’s move from Sterling Forest to New York City in 2018 has afforded us a great opportunity to translate and extend the methodological lessons and best practices we learned from our work with the Ramapough Lenape Nation to additional high-need, environmentally impacted communities in our current Brooklyn catchment area. We have been focused on strengthening our alliance to actively support comprehensive National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS) capacity-building activities to empower our Ramapough Lenape Nation partners to sustain and expand their environmental justice work, and evaluate our jointly developed methods, strategies, and processes to identify best practice tools and programs.
We are actively translating and transferring these best practice methods, approaches, and study designs to expand citizen science collaborations that address environmental health priorities and concerns to neighborhoods in southwest Brooklyn that are impacted by long-term environmental contamination from industrial dumping, heavy truck traffic, and cargo shipping terminals.
Our CEC core aims are to enhance and target multiple dissemination platforms to translate center research to reach all community stakeholders, policymakers, and other core centers, and highlight findings from the CEC, our center, and the Integrated Health Science Facility Core.
According to a National Academy of Sciences report, citizen science projects actively engage participants, use a systematic approach to producing reliable knowledge, engage primarily non–scientist participants, help advance science, benefit participants, and communicate results. Two exposure assessment citizen science projects were carried out last cycle by Ramapough Lenape Nation community member volunteers working with the CEC and the Integrated Health Science Facility Core. These programs were directly informed by survey findings from 189 community members regarding priorities on specific contaminant exposure pathways and indoor pollutants. For example, in one of the Ramapough Lenape Nation–led projects our trained citizen scientists collected tap water samples from the local church. Findings reported back to the community and policymakers found lead levels threefold above the New Jersey state standard.
We use a citizen science “train-the-trainer” model. Dennis DeFreese, a member of the Ramapough Lenape Nation and an NYU CIEH– and Collaborative Institutional Training Initiative (CITI)–trained citizen scientist, has led seven citizen science environmental exposure assessment projects in past three years and trainings for another environmentally contaminated New Jersey community in the collection of toenail clippings. Protocols and previously developed water, air, soil, and toenail toolkits from our Ramapough Lenape Nation citizen science projects that align with Brooklyn community priorities will be reviewed, adapted, and refined using community- and culture-centered approaches for implementation in the neighborhoods of Gowanus, Red Hook, and Sunset Park.
Youth Enrichment Programs
The CEC continues to build on our well-received student science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) programs, which we are introducing in Brooklyn in collaboration with our community partners. These programs include the following:
- the New York City–based BioBus Program for students K-12
- the Lang Youth Medical Program for students in grades 7–12 starting each summer
Learn more about our additional policy initiatives with the Division of Environmental Pediatrics and information about external expertise and resources regarding health effects.
The CEC has established partnerships in the environmentally impacted Brooklyn neighborhoods of Gowanus, Red Hook, and Sunset Park by leveraging existing community stakeholder collaborations. Our community partners include the following:
- Red Hook public housing resident leaders and community-based advocacy organizations
- Brooklyn Atlantis and the Gowanus Dredgers Canoe Club, groups focused on participatory action and advocacy related to the Gowanus Canal Superfund site
- Sunset Park community empowerment, social service, and faith-based organizations
- Brooklyn Community Boards 6 (representing Gowanus–Red Hook) and 7 (representing Sunset Park)