Coastal and waterfront areas in the United States are growing increasingly vulnerable to the threat of environmental chemical contamination. As climate change continues unabated, the frequency and severity of major coastal storms is expected to rise. These disaster events heighten the potential for chemicals to become dislocated by facility damage, storm surge, and flooding - creating fugitive chemicals. In densely populated coastal and waterfront communities, there is fear of a toxic soup of chemicals washed out from business facilities after storm events and dispersed throughout public and residential areas. Of the 143 counties where unequal pollution burdens are reported for low-income populations, 53% are in coastal or waterfront locations. The threats to vulnerable groups and potential long-term health consequences raise the need for effective solutions that empower communities to address fugitive chemical risks. Through an existing partnership between community and research groups, this project will pioneer a new framework - community-based risk assessment (CBRA) - that incorporates a community-based participatory research approach and integrates community members in local data collection efforts. Through CBRA, this project will engage in research to develop a unique community-based intervention called the Business Innovations for Resilience & Community Health (BIRCH) initiative. Due to their integration within residential areas, small polluting businesses are often sources of concern for surrounding neighborhoods. BIRCH will assess the health and exposure risk reduction potential of strategies implemented to reduce chemical releases and help small businesses implements promising practices. This study will focus on the most highly concentrated small business sector, automotive repair and maintenance shops (auto shops), in the heavily industrialized waterfront neighborhood of Sunset Park, NY. Auto shops are pollution intensive operations using chemicals associated with cancers and respiratory, cardiovascular, and neurological diseases. While sources of concern, the shops are considered promising partners in community-based actions.
The specific aims of this project are: 1) engage community auto shop owners through the establishment of a Business Resilience Team, and inventory shop chemicals, their vulnerability to release, and potential health impacts; 2) conduct probabilistic exposure modeling to characterize people's exposures to fugitive chemicals from auto shops; 3) quantify health and exposure risk reduction impacts from implementation of best management practices for preventing and mitigating chemical releases from auto shops; and 4) pilot test the Business Resilience Toolbox as a resource for auto shops to implement best management practices to reduce fugitive chemical risks. By estimating the health effects of fugitive chemicals and translating research to an innovative program, this project provides a roadmap and tools to empower vulnerable communities to effect sustainable public health change.

Public Health Relevance

This project will use a community-based risk assessment approach to engage in research that will support development of a unique community-based program called the Business Innovations for Resilience & Community Health (BIRCH) initiative. The initiative is aimed at helping small businesses implement promising prevention and mitigation strategies to reduce the threat of accidental or 'fugitive' chemical releases due to storm surge and flooding events and their resulting harmful health effects. By estimating the health and exposure risks of fugitive chemicals and translating research to a capacity-building, risk-reduction program, this project provides coastal and waterfront communities that are vulnerable to climate change and severe weather events with a roadmap and resources to build capabilities, increase community resilience, and effect sustainable public health change.

National Institute of Health (NIH)
National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS)
Research Project (R01)
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Community Influences on Health Behavior (CIHB)
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Finn, Symma
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Rand Corporation
Santa Monica
United States
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