Outreach and Education


Community Outreach and Education Core
Core Director: Judith T. Zelikoff, Ph.D.
Specific Aims:

The overall goal of the NYU Center Community Outreach and Education Core (COEC) is to translate, communicate, and disseminate Environmental Health Science and our Center's scientists' knowledge and expertise to insure greater community wisdom and awareness. This COEC has a continuing commitment to Environmental Health Science, particularly in translating toxicology research to target populations. This COEC will continue to address the public's knowledge gaps about Environmental Health in the form of science advice to communities and policy makers, Web-based and traditional Environmental Health education, and assistance to communities facing environmental adversities. However, the emphasis of this COEC will be geared towards translating research information and expertise that exists at the NYU-NIEHS Center into actions to improve public health in Cr-impacted populations. The focus will be on underserved minority residents of Jersey City (Hudson County, NJ) who are concerned with, and/or exposed to, Cr-contaminated waste sites. More than 3 million tons of Cr waste were generated and distributed throughout Hudson County, the most urbanized and densely populated county in NJ. The COEC has initiated a dialogue with the "not-for-profit" Interfaith Community Organization (ICO), as well as with GRACO (Jersey City Neighborhood Group), and the Jersey City Garfield Avenue Chromium Coalition (GA-CC; a localized alliance of Jersey City residents). Through the Consultant activities of Dr. Costa and the Governing Body of Jersey City, we have also begun to "build bridges" with Jersey City Deputy Mayor Kibili Tayela who is helping COEC to engage other Civic Groups that will reach different populations (see letters of support below). These groups provide the pathway by which our Center can reach concerned communities and other interested parties that are currently exposed to - or worried about - possible Cr exposure. Via the Outreach Core External Advisory Board, comprised in part of Hudson County community leaders/members, and the use of a written "Needs Assessment" questionnaire that will be provided to residents, this COEC can distinguish and target those issues of greatest concern to impacted communities. The Center embodies a diverse range of scientific expertise, and is therefore capable of addressing community concerns on several scales. In this manner, we utilize our Center resources and expertise to provide unbiased and accurate information about environmental health risks to the public.
Link to Past COEP Activities

The following three Specific Aims are proposed:

Specific Aim 1:

Educate Cr-impacted NJ communities-at-large, local workers, health professionals and both community and ICO leaders about the prevalence/site location of Cr contamination in Hudson County and surrounding NJ areas, as well as educate about the potential health effects from exposure, through Forums, Workshops, and Educational Events at local schools, churches, and hospitals. To ensure active participation by members of the Cr-impacted communities, all outreach initiatives will be guided by the results of Website surveys assessing community concerns and a written "Needs Assessment" questionnaire distributed to the targeted community prior to any community activity. These assessment tools will be developed and validated by our Educational Evaluator (Dr. Solomon).

A sub-aim of the NYU COEC will be to aid in an ICO initiative to identify, evaluate, and prioritize other potential Cr- (and, if requested, other metal-) bearing hazardous waste sites (and surrounding areas) in NJ. Members of the Center will serve as a resource to the ICO leaders by providing scientific information concerning potential human health effects, national standards, potential risks, and cleanup alternatives of the waste site-associated chemicals.

Specific Aim 2:

Establish an interactive Website that provides educational materials and presentations aimed at empowering Community Assistance Leaders, Outreach Assistance Providers, and Citizen Leaders to educate citizens about Cr-contaminated sites in/near their neighborhoods and/or workplaces. The Website will also provide surveys (in English and Spanish) that can be downloaded and used to help assess community concerns. Assessment results will be used by the COEC to drive individual Cr-related outreach initiatives.

Specific Aim 3:

Project the NYU-NIEHS Center's scientific expertise to students, policymakers, and communities (in addition to Cr-impacted communities in Aims 1 and 2) to help bridge the gap between researchers and non-scientists. This Aim seeks to continue to raise awareness of the NYU Center as a scientific resource in the region. Encompassed within this aim are several ongoing and continuing COEC initiatives (i.e., "Science in Action", student mentoring, Center Member presentations/advice on Environmental Health issues to communities and policymakers, Occupational and Environmental Health Clinic, and World Trade Center Residents Health Study). Outgrowths of these continuing initiatives will also be included as part of this Aim, e.g., partnership with New York-Presbyterian Lang Youth Medical Program.

Research Plan:

Background and Significance

Community Outreach and Education is essential to address the public's lack of/misinformed knowledge about Environmental Health. Seventy percent of 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), two out of three adult Americans fail. Only 45% of Americans know that the burning of fossil fuels for transportation and electricity generation is a main cause of global climate change air pollutants. Fewer than 25% know that the primary cause of water pollution in the US is non-point source pollution. As a society, it appears that we are making environmental decisions in ignorance. Thus, the primary emphasis of the NYU Center's COEC will be to help to fill this important need in Community and Educational Outreach.

The responsibility of moving towards a better understanding of environmental impacts on health rests largely with public agencies, community leaders, non-governmental organizations (including research centers, such as this), educational institutions, and the media. The NYU Center of Excellence has always believed that Environmental Health scientists, because of their knowledge and their credibility with the public, bear a special burden to make their research publically known and understood so that better environmental knowledge, behavior, and policies can be engendered in our society.

Hazardous waste sites are a major concern in New Jersey (NJ); NY/NJ border lies just 10 miles south of the NYU Center. NJ "boasts" the most Superfund sites (116) in the country (http://www.epa.gov/superfund/sites/query/queryhtm/nplfin.htm#NJ). Of these, 112 are on the National Priorities List (NPL) - with two such sites targeted for our COEC activities. Superfund sites on the NPL list are distributed throughout NJ from its northernmost (Bergen County) to the southernmost point (Cape May County) (http://www.cqs.com/super_nj.htm). About 94% of these sites have potential for human exposures to site-related contaminants, with the most frequently contaminated media being soil and groundwater. Of the NJ NPL sites, 94% contain contaminated groundwater. Surface and subsurface soil is contaminated at 77% of the sites; with soil as the primary media for potential human exposure at no less than 54% of the sites. In Public Health Assessments for NJ sites with reported human exposure, the most common exposure routes were ingestion (23.4%), inhalation (20.6%), and dermal (17.6%). Unfortunately, after many years and billions of dollars spent by the Federal Government and the Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP), only 9 of the 116 sites have been completely cleaned to date.

Hexavalent chromium (Cr[VI]) has been found in at least 1,127 of the 1,699 hazardous waste sites proposed for inclusion on the EPA NPL nationwide. Of the 112 NJ NPL Superfund sites in NJ, 17% contain Cr[VI], either as the primary contaminant (i.e., Shieldalloy Corporation site, Gloucester County) or in combination with other chemicals (e.g., arsenic, nickel, halogenated aromatic hydrocarbons [HAH]) as demonstrated by the Franklin Burn site (Gloucester County). For example, the soil at the Franklin Burn, a site of un-permitted copper reclamation activities (1960-1988) that resulted in the generation of hazardous substances-containing ash piles ranging in area from ≈480-15,000 ft2, contains copper (176,000 ppm), lead (25,500 ppm), nickel (170 ppm), Cr (106 ppm), and HAH (including polychlorinated biphenyls [PCBs, 106 ppm]) at levels that pose a significant health risk following human ingestion/inhalation. Further, large amounts of Cr are also found in areas of NJ not currently listed as Superfund sites, i.e., >150 sites in Hudson County alone (http://www.state.nj.us/dep/srp/siteinfo/chrome/). Despite omission from the NPL or Superfund list, these "unclassified" sites represent a significant public health concern in terms of potential to adversely impact the health of nearby communities by exposure to this particularly toxic carcinogenic metal in this densely populated urban area.

By the 1950s, Cr[VI] was established as a carcinogen. Supported by continued research, Cr[VI] was deemed a human carcinogen by the WHO, IARC, and National Toxicology Program and was declared a human lung carcinogen by the U.S. EPA http://www.epa.gov/ttn/atw/hlthef/chromium.html. In addition to its carcinogenic status, Cr[VI] can cause respiratory tract irritations, and induces kidney and liver damage, leukopenia, skin ulcers, and allergic contact dermatitis depending on the routes of exposure and dose. Owing to its toxicity, the Federal government has set a limit of 100 µg total Cr/L of drinking water. Neither the Federal or State (NJ) government limits Cr(VI) in water, regulating only  total Cr. The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment recommended a Public Health Goal of 2.5 µg total Cr/L and 0.02 µg Cr(VI)/L. OSHA has set 8-hr workshift and 40-hr workweek limits of 500 µg water-soluble Cr[III] compounds/m3 workplace air, 1 mg metallic chromium/m3, 1 mg insoluble chromium compounds/m3, and 52 µg Cr[VI]/m3. NIOSH has set a recommended exposure limit (REL; 10-hr time-weighted average of 1 µg Cr[VI]/m3 (http://www.osha.gov/dts/chemicalsampling/data/CH_228697.html). Thus, the presence of Cr (as Cr[III]) or Cr[VI]) in compounds with varying degrees of solubility can potentially pose a substantial human health threat to exposed individuals in residential and industrial areas.

The NJDEP estimates that >3 million tons of Cr wastes, mostly by-products of chromite ore production, were generated and distributed throughout Hudson County. Hudson County, the most urbanized and densely populated county in NJ, was for many years the center of Cr-chemical production in the U.S., with three of the nation's six Cr production plants located there - including two in Jersey City. Most of the Cr waste came from processing chromite ore by three NJ-based companies including: PPC Inc., Allied Signal Inc., and Diamond Shamrock. Successors to these original companies (and that still produce Cr used in paint, stainless steel, etc.) are Honeywell Inc., PPG Industries, and Tierra Solutions; however, ~30 of Cr[VI]-contaminated "orphan" sites", for which no company has accepted responsibility, also contribute to the Jersey City "Cr legacy".  PPG itself sampled soil and groundwater and reported elevated levels - some >2,500-times the state cleanup standard - of the toxic Cr throughout the site. Tests also revealed that Cr contamination had migrated off the site and into surrounding areas, including some inside the homes and schools in the densely populated African American and Latino communities. As a result of ~80 years of Cr activity (1890s - 1970s), Hudson County became the capitol of the nation's chromate chemical industry and the county became the second largest site (after Tokyo) for hazardous Cr waste (levels) in the world. The primitive production processes used in the original chromate plants generated up to 2 lb of waste per 1 lb of chemical product. For decades, this waste was stockpiled outside the three plants; older county residents remember the yellow-green streams and puddles that would form around the stockpiles.

The bulk of the chromite ore-processing residue (COPR) is located in Jersey City, the county's largest - and the state's second largest - city. In the 1950s, Cr plants began to distribute the waste as fill material that was sold at a very low price - or often donated - to construction companies in and around Jersey City for use in a variety of construction projects including wetlands fill; berms and embankments for oil tank farms, roads and railroads, as well as construction fill for sewer projects, homes, apartment buildings, schools, and commercial sites. By the late 1970s, health officials had identified dozens of COPR dumpsites throughout Jersey City (http://www.nj.gov/dep/gis/depsplash.htm#). NJDEP officials joined the enforcement effort in the 1980s and eventually identified 200 Cr dumpsites in Jersey City and surrounding Hudson County communities. About 35 of the "known" sites were residential - some found under or adjacent to homes. Dozens more sites were identified at or adjacent to active workplaces. Many other sites were in areas formerly considered "industrial" but that, in the recent past (due to current development patterns in Hudson County), became increasingly residential. Unfortunately, high levels of Cr residues continue to turn up in playgrounds, ball fields, public buildings, businesses, private homes, vacant lots, and manufacturing plants throughout Hudson County, and the residents continue to be exposed. Levels of Cr[VI] measured in some areas of Hudson County are astonishingly elevated. For example, "Site 115" (Roosevelt Drive-in theater), the largest Cr site in Hudson County, has Cr[VI] levels in soil, surface water, and shallow groundwater as high as 17,900 ppm, 19,000 ppb, and 24,000 ppb, respectively. Although PPG and Honeywell have recently begun soil cleanup/remediation efforts for some of their Cr-contaminated sites (guided by the Jersey City governing body in consultation with the NYU Center Director, Dr. Max Costa), much is still unknown regarding groundwater Cr in these locations. However, as of September 2009, only about 39% of all confirmed Hudson County Cr sites have been investigated/cleaned-up (http://www.nj.gov/dep/srp/siteinfo/chrome/update34.htm). Thus, Hudson County residents/workers exposed to Cr over the years will likely remain at risk for exposure for many years to come. Given: the high Cr[VI] levels in COPR and its extensive distribution throughout the county; that it is unclear just how much, if any, Cr[VI] is actually reduced to Cr[III] in the soil; that studies have demonstrated Cr[VI] in dusts recovered from homes located near waste sites; and, that the original risk-based cleanup levels set by DEP were based on the bioavailability of Cr[VI], it is prudent to assume for the sake of public health that individuals living near one of the 200 Hudson County COPR dumpsites are exposed to Cr[VI] and, thus, at risk.

A major Community Group that the NYU Director has begun partnership discussions with is the Interfaith Community Organization (ICO). The ICO is a community-based organization consisting of Hudson County religious congregations and its leaders who became involved in the Cr crisis in 1989 when it could not identify land in the county that was not Cr-contaminated. The ICO, also affiliated with the Industrial Areas Foundation, the nation's oldest and largest community organizing network, provides a pathway by which Environmental Medicine/Health science researchers can reach out to concerned communities and other interested parties that are either currently exposed to - or worried about - possible exposure to Cr contamination. The ICO has kept the Cr issue in the media and community forefront, insured community input, and recently won a court appeal for the cleanup and removal of 1.5 million tons of Cr-tainted soil at a cost to Honeywell Inc. of >$400 million. The ICO, serving as the NYU Center COEC partners (letter from ICO Director) along with individual members of the COEC Stakeholder Advisory Board/External Advisory Committee (EAC), will identify appropriate receptor populations and assure the participation of community and ICO leaders, residents, advocacy groups, workers, health professionals, and the media at each proposed Hudson and Gloucester County (i.e., Shieldalloy Corporation) outreach initiative. Indeed, religious congregations and other community members have, through the ICO, requested NYU's assistance in grappling with this complex issue; by partnering with the NYU Program, ICO will gain expert scientific support that has been missing from its activities in the past. As in the later stages of other environmental crises, the residents of Hudson County are distrustful and fearful of bureaucracy and, thus, rely heavily on Community Leaders and Citizen Assistance Groups (such as the ICO) for information and guidance. Together with the close relationship the ICO shares with the Hudson and Gloucester County community leaders and affected populations, the success of the NYU COEC should be assured. Moreover, success is further guaranteed by the close relationship that community members/leaders will share with the NYU Core participants via the Outreach EAC, as well as the relationship that Dr. Costa shares with some Citizen Advisory Groups and the Jersey City Governing Body. Having active community members, who face the problems of Cr contamination in Hudson County on a daily basis, acting as liaisons between the community and the NYU COEC will also help to ensure participation by the community-at-large.

Because of the involvement of the ICO with another major Cr-contaminated site in NJ (i.e., the Shieldalloy Metallurgical Corporation [SMC] NPL Superfund site in Gloucester County), populations in proximity to this site will be included in the proposed NYU COEC initiatives. The site is a 67.5-acre location (in EPA Region 2) that houses an active specialty plant where Cr alloy was produced in massive amounts. There are ≈56,000 people living within a 2-mile radius of the SMC site, with the closest residence <0.2 mile away. Private wells located within a mile of the site, as well as municipal wells in the vicinity, were and still are (albeit, to a lesser degree) contaminated with Cr; soil in the area is also contaminated with Cr (and other metals). Off-site threats to public health include drinking or direct contact with groundwater and surface water and inhaling Cr-contaminated air particles. Prior to its cleanup in 1999, the SMC site ranked fourth out of seven EPA Hazard-ranked Superfund sites in Gloucester County and ninth out of 36 sites ranked statewide; for groundwater migration, the SMC tied for first place in the Hazard Ranking System for all of NJ. Although the SMC decontamination plant has treated contaminated groundwater prior to discharge into the Hudson's Branch Tributary of the Maurice River, the river still remains heavily contaminated with Cr (as well as other heavy metals). Public health remains a serious concern for nearby residents and workers.

The organizational structure of our NYU-NIEHS Center COEC Program is displayed in the diagram below:


The Outreach Director (Dr. Zelikoff), with input from the COEC Center's Internal and External Advisory Committee, will determine the overall direction of the NYU NIEHS Center COEC activities. The COEC Internal Advisory Committee (IAC), comprised of community-involved members of the Center, including Drs. Wirgin, Klein, Thurston, and Zelikoff, along with the Scientific Educator, Educational Evaluator, Program Associates, Web Designer, an NIEHS post-doctoral trainee, and 2 pre-doctoral candidates will meet regularly to discuss community concerns, evaluate present outreach initiatives, and plan future efforts. The faculty members of this IAC have been active in, and recognized for, conducting Outreach by participating as scientific advisors, serving on local panels that advise schools and local communities, and contributing expert advice on environmental issues in NJ and the greater regional New York City (NYC) metropolitan area.

The Stakeholder Advisory Board/External Advisory Committee (EAC), comprised primarily of members/leaders of the Cr-impacted communities, will also include community leaders from the Sterling Forest area, Manhattan, and the Bronx. The EAC, comprised of 10 members, will meet regularly to strengthen the bi-directional interaction between COEC and their partners and to serve as an Advisory group to ensure Center understanding of community and other stakeholders needs. The EAC will include 5 members/leaders of the Cr- impacted communities, a COEC leader from a nearby NIEHS Center (University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey, Laura Hemminger), the founder of Asthma Moms in Lower Manhattan (Catherine McVay-Hughes), a U.S. EPA, Region 2, NYC scientist (Dr. Charles Nace), a leader of the South Bronx Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice (Alexie Torres Fleming), the COEC Director, and Scientific Educator. Jersey City Community members, religious leaders, and hospital board members will be appointed from different ethnic and racial backgrounds to ensure a diversity of perspectives (c.f. letters of support below). The 5 proposed Hudson County community members of the EAC include, (1) Mr. Morris (ICO Director), (2) Rev. Ashley (Pasteur of Abundant Joy Community Church, Jersey City), (3) Rev. (Dr.) Curtiss (member of Board of Directors of Christ Hospital, Jersey City and Pastor of All Saints Episcopal Church, Hudson County), (4) Ms. Ellen Wright (leader in Claremont Presbyterian Church and resident of Jersey City for 20 years), and (5) Mr. Vergara (Block leader and Jersey City resident). Mr. Vergara has also expressed interest in the COEC Core Associate position. As a Board member of Christ Hospital, Dr. Curtiss will work diligently to attain maximum participation by the hospital and its health care professionals at the proposed Educational Workshops. Because of its community-based composition, the EAC (along with the "Needs-Assessment survey") will help assure that the needs of the community will drive all outreach
initiatives. The next EAC meeting is scheduled for Summer 2010 to discuss the implementation of the Centers new Cr initiatives.

COEC Staff:

Core Associate, Ed Vergara, living <1 block from the largest Cr-contaminated site (PPG) in Jersey City, is Vice-President of the Jersey City Community Group, GRACO. Fluent in Spanish, Ed is well known in the Jersey City community. Ms. Maureen Sisco, Scientific Educator has a Masters degree in community psychology, extensive middle/high school teaching experience, and has been a research scientist at the NYU Center for >15 years. Mr. Cook, a Graphics Designer with the NYU Center for ~30 years, will be Webmaster. Dr. Pearl Solomon, Educational Evaluator, has an Ed.D. from Columbia University and has authored 8 books/journal articles on Educational Assessment tools (Biosketches).