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Community Outreach (COEP)
Community outreach and education is essential to enhance the public's knowledge, and to reduce misconceptions, about environmental issues and human health effects related to the environment. National surveys have long shown that there is a real need to better educate the public and community about environmental issues facing our ever more technological society. The National Environmental Education & Training Foundation (NEETF) commissions an annual Roper Poll to assess public knowledge about the environment and surveys the public's attitudes and behaviors about environmental issues. When asked directly, most Americans say they know at least "a fair amount" about environmental issues and problems. However, when knowledge is measured via performance on a pre-tested environmental quiz (12 multiple-choice questions about recent environmental topics), most Americans correctly answer 8 or fewer questions. The responsibility of promoting better understanding of environmental and environmental health issues rests largely with public agencies, community leaders, non-governmental organizations, research centers, the media, and science educators. The NYU NIEHS Center of Excellence has long believed that Environmental Health scientists, because of their specialized knowledge and credibility with the public, bear a special burden to make their research known and understood by the non-scientific community, so that environmental knowledge, practical behaviors, and best policies can be engendered in our society.
For many years the NYU Community Outreach and Education Program (COEP) and the NYU NIEHS Center Outreach Program has successfully carried out numerous initiatives with the help and support of many of its Center members. Some past and/or ongoing initiatives are listed below and the details of some specific programs are highlighted following.
- Community Outreach to assess Chromium contamination in Garfield New Jersey
- Public Perceptions of Hazards Associated with Fracking
- "Science in Action" Student Programs
- Community Advisory Activities and Collaborative Efforts
- Science and Community Interaction Forums
- High School Student Mentoring
- Web-based Environmental Health Education Efforts
- NIEHS Center Speakers Bureau
- Community Based Scientific Presentation
A study is currently underway to analyze total chromium levels in toenail clippings and/or blood samples of adult volunteers 18-65 yrs old living in Garfield (Bergen County), New Jersey. In September 2011, a southwest section of the city was designated as EPA superfund site following a 1983 chromic acid spill from a partially-buried vertical storage tank at a local electroplating plant.
Chromium contaminated water (and a resulting dust/residual) were found seeping into a local firehouse basement in Garfield in 1993, followed by several residential sites that were later found to contain chromium-contaminated groundwater in 2000. Since 2009, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has been testing groundwater and basements throughout Garfield, finding elevated hexavalent chromium (CrVI) levels in 13 residential properties and even more recently in wells south of the plume area and across the Passaic River in Passaic, NJ. This contaminated groundwater is now seeping up through residential basements and leaving behind a chromium-filled toxic dust to be inhaled.
There are two forms of Cr, which differ in their properties and, therefore, their toxic effects in humans. Trivalent Cr, or CrIII, is thought to be an essential element which is readily excreted from the body. Hexavalent chromium or CrVI is a known carcinogen when inhaled and causes allergic dermatitis when absorbed through the skin. Ingestion of hexavalent chromium is known to cause gastrointestinal symptoms and may also result in the development of oral, stomach or small intestine cancers when swallowed.
As part of the Community Outreach and Engagement Core of the NYU NIEHS Center of Excellence, we are assessing CrVI levels in toenail clippings and selected blood samples of 250 Garfield residents. Healthy, non-smoking male and female volunteers, ages 18-65 yrs who have lived in Garfield for greater than or equal to 2 years will be recruited for participation along with those that live in a smoke free home, who are non-diabetic and do not take any chromium supplements.
For more information about the study, please contact Shannon Doherty Lyons, the Community Outreach Coordinator for the project. Shannon Doherty Lyons@nyumc.org
Click here to view articles related to the NYU Chromium Study in Garfield, New Jersey
Judith Zelikoff, Professor at NYU Department of Environmental Medicine, in collaboration with Joanna Burger and her team at Rutgers University, has initiated a study to identify community and stakeholder concerns regarding fracking along the Marcellus Shale. Fracking, as defined by Oxford dictionary, "is the process of injecting liquid at high pressure into subterranean rocks, boreholes, etc., so as to force open existing fissures and extract oil or gas" (Click here to view EPA information on fracking: http://www2.epa.gov/hydraulicfracturing) This geography includes impacted areas in Pennsylvania and in areas in New York where there is potential for fracking in the future. Via surveys, town hall meetings and focus groups, we will identify and support community needs for educational materials and bridge the gap between the current research on fracking and the communities involved. Not only does this information help the community engage in informed decision making, but it will aid their public leaders to effectively respond to their constituents concerns.
In addition, samples of backflow/containment pond water produced from fracking, along with drinking well water from nearby community wells, will be chemically characterized for metal content and organic constituents. These samples will also be used to test the activity for cell transformation and mutagenic/epigenetic gene activation and silencing activity using in vitro cell culture based assays, and test for their ability to induce changes in gene expression in cultured BEAS2B cells following both acute and chronic exposure using and Affymeterix gene chip containing >28,000 genes.
Because there is a moratorium in New York State on fracking, we partnered with the Town of Tusten (population 1400) in New York's Sullivan County to generate baseline data. We held an open house on February 7, 2014 and conducted our survey to 79 people. We asked questions about their feelings and concerns about fracking and energy development, and how they get the information they've been receiving to make informed choices. People came from Tusten, and neighboring towns and states, to take the survey and they expressed much appreciation for our engagement in this topic.
Moving forward with this study, NYU will be moving into Wayne, PA to survey residents who have had lands leased to energy companies and to Bradford and Tioga PA where fracking is active.
Once we have finished the surveys we will be looking to see what kinds of information these communities are lacking to make informed decisions, and then work with their leaders and community organizations to create materials that would result in a better informed community.
Our past experience in the South Bronx (New York) was one of the most extensive and far-reaching outreach and education initiatives undertaken to date by NYU Community Outreach. The NYU/EPA South Bronx Environmental Health & Policy Study: Youth Participation & Leadership Program was conducted in conjunction with an ongoing study of air pollution in the South Bronx being conducted by another Center member. The main goal of the South Bronx Environmental Health and Policy Study was to examine environmental and health issues affecting the South Bronx, with particular emphasis on the relationships between air quality, transportation, waste transfer activity, demographic characteristics, and public health. The South Bronx Environmental Health & Policy Study program was a collaborative project that involved the NYU School of Medicine's Nelson Institute of Environmental Medicine (NIEM), the NYU Wagner Graduate School of Public Service's Institute for Civil Infrastructure Systems (ICIS), and four South Bronx community groups including The Point Community Development Corporation, We Stay/Nos Quedamos, Sports Foundation Inc. and Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, Inc. The objective of the Youth Participation and Leadership Program was to actively engage high-school students from the study area to learn from the project by training them in environmental science, policy and health, and by offering them a chance to work directly with scientists and policy experts in these areas. The Program consisted of three 8-week sessions that strengthened student skills in basic areas of environmental health, while focusing on specific environmental health issues relevant to the community, such as asthma. The NYU-NIEHS Center plans to maintain an ongoing multi-year relationship with these four community-based organizations located in the South Bronx, and will build on the high school environmental education program that has been developed there.
A Speakers Bureau of NIEHS Center members who give presentations to local civics groups and communities on topics of interest to the public was established in 2005. Dr. Judith Zelikoff, for example (Director, NYU COEP) spoke on the hazards of wood burning as part of the Ramsey (NJ) Environmental Commission seminar series. She discussed how wood burning could bring the indoor and outdoor particulate pollution levels above the safety standards. The Ramsey Governing Board selected this particular topic for presentation to the community, as it represents an important health issue for both local and state residents. Dr. Wirgin has presented several seminars on environmental issues related to PCBs to Stuyvesant High School (NYC) students at The River Project, a marine science field station that works to protect and restore the ecosystem of the Hudson River estuary through scientific research, hands-on environmental education, and urban habitat improvement. Many of our NYU NIEHS Center members, as well as numerous other notable scientists, have presented talks on relevant scientific topics at the Hudson Valley (NY) Science Café in Newburgh, NY. The Science Café, managed by Dr. Rossman, is an open-to-the-public monthly dinner gathering that includes a short scientific presentation followed by open discussion. Recent topics have included discussion on the World Trade Center disaster and human health, air pollution, genomics, epigenetics and genetic susceptibility to disease.
As science is being "squeezed" out of many schools nationwide, it is imperative that K-12 students be educated in the principles, concepts and careers in environmental health science, particularly in toxicology. Thus, we partner with the John's Hopkins' Center for Talented Youth Program to translate into theory and practice how toxicology "operates" in the real world. Each spring, thirty 5th and 6th grade gifted and talented (defined as students scoring in the 97th percentile and above on a standardized test administered in their state) students, along with their parents, attend our annual 2-day "Science in Action Program" held at the Sterling Forest Visitors Center located in the Frank Lautenberg State Park adjacent to our campus. They actively participate in "hands on" laboratory experiments on air pollution, environmental microbiology, and DNA/genomics, as well as engage in various nature field study activities. The overall goal of this collaborative initiative is to provide a culturally-diverse group of gifted and talented students with a deeper understanding of scientific processes and experimental methods. Employing a multi-disciplinary approach improves the students' views of environmental issues and of science in general. In addition, this workshop serves to strengthen NYU's partnership with Johns Hopkins' long-standing and successful community outreach and education program. NYU NIEHS Center researchers also reach out to 5th-12th graders at a Y2K initiative held annually at nearby Stewart Air Force Base (Newburgh, NY) whereabout 3,000 students from all over New York come to increase their awareness about career opportunities.
Similar to the Center for Talented Youth program, students from the Lang Youth Medical Program at New York-Presbyterian Hospital, based in New York City, participated in "hands on" laboratory experiments on air pollution, environmental microbiology and DNA/genomics as well as engage in various nature field study activities. The Lang Youth Program is a six-year science enrichment, mentoring, internship, and college preparatory program for talented ethnic minority youth who aspire to become future scientists and healthcare professionals. On Thursday, July 25, 2013, 14 students along with their Teachers attended the one day Annual Lang Summer Program at the Sterling Forest Visitors Center located in the Frank Lautenberg State Park adjacent to the NYU School of Medicine, Department of Environmental Medicine Campus.
The NYU COEP program of the NIEHS Center will continue to serve as a partner for many of these outreach programs, and will also seek out cooperation in field science/data collection in such areas as air quality, water quality, and soil chemistry.
Another community outreach initiative is our partnership with the Bellevue/NYU Occupational & Environmental Medicine Clinic in New York City. The clinic identifies target communities based upon their patient groups, and the NYU NIEHS Center then can utilize their resources and expertise to provide unbiased and accurate information about environmental health risks associated with the specific New York City target populations, in particular low-income workers who may be at elevated risk for occupationally-related diseases, such as work-aggrevated asthma. Through these "bedside to bench" initiatives, community-guided, information-sharing, and educational actions, the NYU COEC will expedite the process of linking the NIEHS Center's scientific expertise and research results with public needs and interests, especially those of local communities in and around New York City and its nearby suburbs in NY and NJ.
Of the numerous Community Forums conducted by NYU scientists, of greatest prominence were the three World Trade Center (WTC) Forums held in lower Manhattan in 2001 and 2002. After the September 11th attack in 2001, the NYU Community Outreach and Education Program was an active participant in efforts to inform the public about potential environmental health implications of the aftermath of the disaster. As there was much distrust of government pronouncements about environmental safety at this moment, time was of the essence for developing an effective outreach menu that would address the questions posed by the public. The goal of the NYU COEP in this case was to make the scientific information and resources of our Center available to the public and to address their concerns. The media, community forums, and a community newsletter all became vehicles to get accurate information out to the public.
NYU organized a public forum held at the NYU Washington Square campus entitled "Environmental Health Issues Related to the World Trade Center Disaster" to an audience of over 400 downtown residents. At this forum, the research results and plans of the various participating NIEHS Centers were presented. This was followed by a free-flowing question and answer period carried over one and one-half hours, during which time experts from the various NIEHS Centers applied their knowledge and expertise to try to answer the public's many concerns and questions.
High School Student Mentoring
The NYU Community Outreach Program has a long-standing relationship with a number of high schools in the local New York and New Jersey area. Students are invited to come to our Institute, acquire a research mentor, and learn laboratory skills associated with environmental health science research. Two NYU faculty and NIEHS Center members, Drs. Zelikoff and Klein have been very active in this program and have been mentoring high school students of all levels for about 12 years. Many of these students have won regional science competitions, and several have been recognized as Intel and/or Seimens Westinghouse finalists or semi-finalists. High school students find their way to our program by networking with other students in their high school and/or by searching the Web to find a laboratory and NYU mentor with whom they would like to work. This program is ongoing and will expand to include additional New York and New Jersey high schools that offer advanced science programs.
Web-Based and Graphic Design Educational Efforts
One of the main pathways of interaction between Department faculty and the public has been through the NYU Internet WWW "topic-oriented" environmental problems reference page. The site lists more than 80 environmental issues for which Department faculty expertise can be obtained. Individual faculty research pages and/or other relevant web-links are provided to users visiting the award-winning site. America Online named this web page as one of the "Best Human Interest Sites on the World Wide Web"; the Outreach web page was also designated a Look-Smart "Editor's Choice".