Washington Post: Citizen scientists are the new community activists
Dr. Sacoby Wilson’s work to empower communities to use science in support of environmental justice causes is the subject of a column by Washington Post columnist Courtland Milloy.
An associate professor in the SPH Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health, Dr. Wilson consults with groups of local concerned citizens and teaches them how to become effective citizen scientists: ordinary residents using a basic understanding of civics and science in service to their communities.
“They do their own research and they are not intimidated by the glossy presentations of industrial polluters at zoning hearings and county council meetings,” Wilson says in the column. “They conduct door-to-door home health surveys in their neighborhoods and show others how to recognize the presence of environmental hazards.”
Dr. Wilson, who was named a 2018 Environmental Champion by the Audubon Naturalist Society, leads the Community Engagement, Environmental Justice and Health (CEEJH) Initiative at the School of Public Health. CEEJH is focused on providing technical assistance to communities fighting against environmental injustice and environmental health disparities.
CEEJH collaborates with Port Towns community groups to assess health risks for populations exposed to industrial pollution and traffic-related emissions from industrial traffic and commuter traffic in the Bladensburg, Md. area using citizen science. They work with a coalition on environmental justice and health issues relating to the multiple power plants in the Brandywine, Md. region. They provide community outreach on environmental health issues that impact Latinx populations, including a clean school buses campaign and air monitoring efforts related to natural gas infrastructure in Lusby, Md. CEEJH also provides technical assistance relating to the public health impacts of industrial chicken farming on communities on Maryland’s Eastern Shore; and they work with a Charleston, South Carolina community group on environmental justice and health issues using community-based participatory research.
At a recent citizens’ meeting in Bladensburg, near the site of a proposed new concrete plant, Dr. Wilson unveiled an environmental justice plan for Prince George’s County that he and his students prepared.
On Saturday, May 12 CEEJH will host the 4th Symposium on Environmental Justice and Health Disparities in Maryland and the Washington, DC Region. Dr. Wilson and his team have lined up a full day of workshops, panel discussions and networking, with a keynote speech by citizen activist Destiny Watford, the 2016 North America Goldman Prize Winner who fought alongside her Baltimore community to stop the nation's largest trash-burning incinerator from being built in her neighborhood.
As Milloy says, “Seeing cause and effect and getting communities mobilized to prevent such a chain of environmental catastrophe, that’s the work of the citizen scientists.”