Communities that experience chronic environmental and social stressors have increased cumulative health risk, according to previous research. Devon C. Payne-Sturges, assistant professor in the University of Maryland School of Public Health evaluated U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-funded projects that engaged communities in assessing how chemical and nonchemical stressors interact and contribute to cumulative risk.
“Low-income and communities of color often experience multiple environmental problems, like air pollution and lead exposure, as well as nonchemical stressors, such as noise or stress stemming from poverty, which can contribute to health disparities,” explained Dr. Payne-Sturges, a faculty member in the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health.
The study examined seven research projects that the EPA funded in 2009 that sought to better understand the interaction between environmental and social stressors and included a role for community engagement. Published in the December 2015 issue of Environmental Justice, Dr. Payne-Sturges and her team’s study assessed how these programs met their community engagement goals, as well as lessons learned for future funding guidelines.
“Including communities in environmental justice research is important because their knowledge of local conditions can help make the study design better and their involvement can help build community capacity to address environmental health problems,” Dr. Payne-Sturges said.
The research projects’ community engagement approaches were categorized as outreach, consultation, involvement, and/or shared leadership/participatory.
Rutgers School of Public Health carried out one of the research projects, Effects of Stress and Traffic Pollutants on Childhood Asthma in an Urban Community, with community partner, the Ironbound Community Corporation (ICC). Rutgers researchers and ICC staff were trained and worked together to plan and execute complex study protocols, including collecting, organizing and interpreting exposure and health outcome data.
Based on their analysis, Dr. Payne-Sturges’ research team suggested these guidelines for future funding mechanisms on community engaged-research in this field:
Researchers also noted that academic administrative requirements, such as conforming to institutional review board (IRB) standards, may place a burden on community groups.