Partnerships for Environmental Public Health (PEPH)

Study Location: Houston, Texas

Academic Partners: 
University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston School of Public Health
Elaine Symanski, Ph.D.

Community Partners:
Air Alliance Houston
Houston Health Department, Bureau of Pollution Control and Prevention (HHD-BPCP)
Neighborhood Residents
Metal Recyclers

Project Description

This project is using a community-based participatory approach to better understand and improve the health of Houston's communities that border metal recycling facilities. Metal recycling is a growing industry in Houston, with over 150 facilities in operation. Because of no zoning, many of these sites operate in close proximity to neighborhoods that are predominantly poor and communities of color. The need for this study was generated by preliminary data developed by the Houston Health Department, Bureau of Pollution Control and Prevention (HHD-BPCP) in response to citizen-reported complaints of air pollution and other community concerns related to metal recycling in Houston. The HHD-BPCP investigations showed elevated levels of metal particles such as cobalt, nickel, chromium, and cadmium at a few of the 25 sampled metal recycling facilities operating in Houston.

This innovative project brings together a unique team of scientists, environmental investigators, community organizers, neighborhood leaders, metal recyclers, and an advocacy group to conduct air monitoring to evaluate outdoor air levels of metal pollutants and to assess potential residential health risks. A Community Advisory Board provides input on all phases of the project. The project team will use the results of environmental and residential risk assessments to develop a Public Health Action Plan. If health risks are identified, the plan will include emission reduction practices that can be adopted by the recycling industry.

This project’s aims are to:

  • Determine health risks associated with exposure to airborne metals emitted from metal recyclers and document knowledge about environmental health risks in the participating communities.
  • Develop and implement a Public Health Action Plan that translates and disseminates findings from the risk assessment and community surveys to improve the air quality and health of neighborhoods that border metal recycling facilities.
  • Evaluate whether the Public Health Action Plan reduced health risks associated with exposure to emissions from metal recyclers; enhanced community capacity to respond to environmental health risks; heightened awareness among metal recyclers and policy makers; and strengthened relationships among academic, community, and industry partners.