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Your Environment. Your Health.

Citizen Science: Using Community-Driven Approaches to Address Environmental Health Disparities

Partnerships for Environmental Public Health (PEPH)

March 27, 2019

Women outside writing on and reviewing a document on paper.
(Photo courtesy of GlacierNPS)

Collaborations between citizens and researchers can take many forms along a continuum of public engagement in scientific research. In the context of environmental health science, citizen science is considered a part of this community-engaged research spectrum. However, an important distinguishing factor is the motivation for being involved in the research process. In environmental health projects using citizen science approaches, residents are most often motivated by their awareness of environmental exposures or ill health in their communities for which they seek answers to inform public health action. As citizen scientists, they are motivated to collect data to address these concerns.

In this webinar, presenters described how citizen science approaches are being used to address environmental health disparities. They touched upon the benefits, challenges, and promises of this approach. Furthermore, the webinar built off the 2019 Citizen Science Association meeting (March 13 - 17, 2019), which focused on the use of citizen science for environmental justice. Two of the presenters shared feedback and recommendations from sessions they organized at the conference.



Sacoby Wilson, Ph.D., M.S.

Sacoby Wilson, Ph.D., M.S., is an associate professor with the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health, which is part of the School of Public Health at the University of Maryland, College Park. He has over ten years of experience working in community-university partnerships on environmental health and justice issues. He has expertise in community-based exposure assessment, environmental justice science, social epidemiology, environmental health disparities, the built environment, air pollution monitoring, and community-based participatory research.

Omega Wilson

Omega Wilson, is co-founder of the West End Revitalization Association, which was established in 1994 by low-income and minority residents of Mebane, North Carolina. The association focuses on civil rights and environmental justice issues, using its innovative paradigm called community-owned and managed research. This paradigm includes a collaborative problem-solving approach to empower low-income, minority communities to produce scientific data and translate research into action. Omega has collaborated extensively with academic researchers, including Sacoby Wilson, and is a frequent contributor to NIEHS discussions on environmental justice. Both Omega and Sacoby were members of the Environmental Justice Planning Committee for the Citizen Science Association’s recently completed conference.

Vi Waghiyi

Vi Waghiyi, is a grandmother and a St. Lawrence Island Yupik, Native Village of Savoonga Tribal member. She is originally from Savoonga, Alaska, a community on Sivuqaq (also known as St. Lawrence Island). When she started at Alaska Community Action on Toxics in 2002, she worked on an NIEHS-funded community-based participatory research project that demonstrated the presence of high levels of polychlorinated biphenyls and other toxic chemicals at a former military site abandoned on the island. Vi now serves as the organization’s Environmental Health and Justice Program Director and is regularly sought out to speak at national and international meetings. For example, she has served as a member of the NIEHS’s National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council. She also has advocated for Arctic indigenous people at the Stockholm Convention, an international treaty ratified by 182 countries that was implemented to ban global persistent organic pollutants (POPs). The Arctic has become a hemispheric sink for POPs, which have impacted Arctic indigenous people disproportionately.

Pamela Miller, M.S., is the founder and executive director of Alaska Community Action on Toxics, which works to protect the environment and human health and to address environmental justice issues by collaborating with affected communities. She is also the co-chair of the International Persistent Organic Pollutants Elimination Network. A renowned expert on persistent toxic chemicals and a prominent voice of chemical reform, she has served on a number of different governmental organizations and advisory groups and has played an instrumental role in both national and international policy decisions.

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