Community and Stakeholder Engagement
Within the UNC Center for Environmental Health and Susceptibility, the Community Engagement Core (CEC) connects researchers with public health professionals and community-based organizations in NC. We use a train-the-trainer model to prepare public health practitioners to address environmental health issues in their communities, and we foster dialogue among Center members and community partners about research needs and associated policy issues. Our Stakeholder Advisory Board, a 12-member advisory board comprised of public health professionals and environmental health advocates, is an important partner in this process. Recent work has focused on how air quality and climate affect health (working with Drs. Ilona Jaspers, Jason Surratt and Jason West, Environmental Sciences and Engineering) and reducing post-hurricane environmental exposures (working with Dr. Larry Engel, Epidemiology). In recent years, we have trained hundreds of public health professionals on a range of environmental health topics. Using pre-/post-assessments, we have seen significant knowledge gains and participants reported being better prepared to communicate environmental health information to residents/clients.
For over a decade, the Center for Public Engagement with Science (CPES) has facilitated statewide outreach for the NC Childhood Lead Poisoning Prevention Program, with a focus on increasing knowledge about lead-based paint and other environmental health hazards in homes among public health, healthcare, and childcare professionals. We also teach families in high-risk communities about how to reduce their exposure to lead in their homes and convene the NC Lead and Healthy Homes Outreach Task Force, a network of ~40 participants representing local, state, and federal public health and housing agencies. The Task Force shares policy information and strategies for community interventions to eliminate harmful environmental exposures. CPES provides web-based and in-person training, educational materials, and technical assistance and manages a website that serves as a clearinghouse for resources on lead and other healthy homes concerns. This project includes a subcontract with a community development nonprofit to conduct outreach in high-risk neighborhoods in Durham County. Working with state and local health departments, we helped develop lead screening guidelines for pregnant women, ensuring that pregnant women and their developing babies are better protected from lead hazards.
Since 2009, the Center for Public Engagement with Science has been engaging key stakeholders such as fishermen, regulatory agencies, and local stakeholders to improve communication of fish consumption advisories. In partnership with NC State University’s Center for Human Health and Environment and Duke University’s Superfund Research Center, we have convened a series of stakeholder meetings to explore challenges to FCA communication in North Carolina.
The NC PFAS Testing (PFAST) Network is a statewide research collaboration focused on improving understanding of exposure to PFAS chemicals across North Carolina, including testing for current PFAS levels in water and air samples. The Network is led by Dr. Jason Surratt (UNC Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering) and comprised of researchers from UNC-Chapel Hill, NC State, Duke, UNC-Wilmington, UNC-Charlotte, ECU, and NC A&T.
The Center for Public Engagement with Science engaged key stakeholders and lay publics in the work of the Jordan Lake Nutrient Management Study, which was led by Dr. Mike Piehler (UNC Institute for the Environment). In the first year, the Center for Public Engagement with Science conducted focus groups and interviews with key stakeholders to understand their views on how to best manage nutrients in the lake. In later years, CPES facilitated a series of research symposia, science seminars, and science cafes to enable researchers to share their findings with over 300 stakeholders and lay audiences.
The Center for Public Engagement with Science is collaborating with the UNC Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering (Dr. Rebecca Fry) and Virginia Tech Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering (Dr. Marc Edwards) to document and respond to private well contamination in environmental justice communities in North Carolina. Over four years, we have tested wells and reported findings to over 1,200 private well users.