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ARRA Investments in Environmental Health Disparities


Public Health Burden
Environmental exposures and disease impact all sectors of the US population; however, vulnerable populations (children, elderly, low socioeconomic status, immigrant populations, etc.) are more likely to suffer from disproportionate environmental exposures and health risks from these exposures. Given the historical and socio-political context of many of environmental health disparities, a holistic approach that involves community engagement, skill building, participatory research, and intervention strategies is essential.

Capacity Building
Effective partnerships to address environmental health disparities depend on each partner possessing effective collaboration skills. Community groups must understand the research process and connections between environmental exposures and adverse health outcomes. Likewise, researchers and health care professionals must possess an appreciation for community knowledge and an ability to communicate in a culturally appropriate fashion. Policy makers also need to understand how their decisions impact the environment and potentially the health of certain populations, especially the most vulnerable. ARRA is funding numerous grants that will build the capacity of communities to address environmental health disparities by:
  • Developing teams of community health workers, a framework for understanding community dynamics, and a family-based model of environmental public health action to address environmental factors leading to cancer health disparities among high-risk African American families.1
  • Providing the training necessary for teachers and community health leaders to establish a public health network that will further community understanding and alleviation of air quality issues within seven Alaska Native villages.2
  • Refining and testing a community-based health data literacy training model designed to engage community representatives and environmental health researchers in collaborative education and strategic planning activities. With a focus on environmental health, this project will address challenges facing residents most at risk for health disparities, including communities of color, low income neighborhoods, and immigrant populations.3
  • Providing scientific expertise, training, and laboratory support to Tribal Nations so they can measure and monitor levels of contaminants on tribal lands, decrease their exposure to chemical contamination, and protect their environmental health.4
  • Creating a database of the 10,000 wells in North Carolina so contaminated hot spots can be identified and analyzed by relevant state and local agencies.5
Community-based Participatory Research
Community-based participatory research (CBPR) is a widely recognized approach for conducting collaborative research with affected communities. The NIH has pioneered this approach and shown it to have beneficial public health outcomes. Numerous ARRA funded projects are using CBPR to address health disparities:     
  • Examine biological indicators of manganese exposure and the effects of chronic manganese exposure in children by applying a rigorous CBPR approach that partners community and university representatives. By hiring new community workers and laboratory staff, this project will accelerate the analysis and dissemination of the exposure information needed for community action.6
  • Implement and study window replacement and/or repair to reduce children's lead exposure, increase energy efficiency, reduce associated power plant emissions, and reduce foreclosures by increasing home value. The project will train community members to perform this work, which will create green jobs.7
  • Reduce racial and ethnic disparities in the burden of asthma by addressing the challenges to effectively integrating home-based environmental and educational interventions delivered by community health workers into clinical practice.8
Environmental Justice (EJ)
Many communities are affected disproportionately by policies that add to their environmental and public health burdens. Often such communities do not have the resources or the ability to document these disproportionate exposures and their effects. Consequently, collaborative partnerships with academic researchers can empower community residents to participate, understand, assesses and communicate research findings to reduce harmful exposures and improve the health of their community.
  • In the Norton Sound region of Alaska, the collection of food samples will further the community’s understanding of the amount of contamination in their traditional foods and help them disseminate the needed science-based information to the affected communities and the health care professionals that serve them. The majority of the residents of these villages are Inupiat and Yupik, indigenous people who depend on the harvest of wild foods to sustain them and their ways of life.9



  1. 1RC1ES018120-01 -- African Americans and Environmental Cancers: Sharing Histories to Build Trust -- Miranda, Marie Lynn (NC)
  2. 1RC1ES018400-01 -- Air Pollution Outreach, Education, and Research Capacity Building in Alaska Natives -- Ward, Anthony John (AK)
  3. 1RC1ES018121-01 -- Assessment of Local Environmental Risk Training (ALERT) -- Wallace, Steven (CA)
  4. 3P42ES010337-10S1 -- Biomolecular Technologies in Screening/analysis of Water/sediments in 29 Palms Lands: Tribal Research Collaboration, Tukey, Robert (CA)
  5. 3P42ES005948-17S1 -- Well Water Contamination, Swenberg, James (NC)
  6. 3R01ES016531-02S4 --Communities Actively Researching Exposure Study (CARES) -- Haynes, Erin N (OH)
  7. 1RC1ES018558-01 -- Preventing Child Residential Lead Exposure By Window Replacement -- Weitzman, Michael (NY)
  8. 1R01ES017407-01 -- Reducing Ethnic/Racial Asthma Disparities in Youth (READY) study -- Smith, Lauren A. (MA)
  9. 3R25ES014308-04S1 -- Environmental Health and Justice in Norton Sound, Alaska -- Miller, Pamela Kay (AK)


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