Environmental Health and Justice Leaders

National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences

Educating youth about environmental health and justice issues can inspire them to be agents of change in their own neighborhoods. This was the goal of the inaugural Environmental Justice Summer Institute (EJSI), a partnership program between several non-profit groups and NIEHS/EPA University of Southern California (USC) Children's Environmental Health Center. Through the program, local high school students learn about environmental health science and gain the skills to become environmental health leaders in their communities.

The students learned firsthand how their communities – which are surrounded by major roadways and are a flyover path for jets landing at the Los Angeles International Airport – bear a disproportionate share of environmental health issues. They used air and noise monitoring devices to track pollution levels at 14 locations around their neighborhoods, selecting places where they live, learn, and hang out. They mapped their findings to show high and low pollution locations in their neighborhoods, showing that areas under flyover paths had 10 times as many ultrafine particles as near the beach. The students also created videos as a way to voice their environmental concerns. They hope to use the videos to educate and engage local residents and to advocate for healthier communities.

The 14-session program culminated with a group presentation during the Environmental Committee meeting of the Empowerment Congress. The Committee members engaged in a question and answer session with the students, giving them a chance to explain how they might utilize the knowledge and experience gained during the program.

Students left the program more equipped to take leadership roles in their communities. According to community partner Scott Chan, one student from the program engaged friends and teachers to start an Environmental Justice Club at her high school. Chan is Program Director of the Asian Pacific Islander Obesity Prevention Alliance, a partner in the USC Children's Center which focuses on air pollution and possible links to obesity and metabolic consequences. "We are very pleased with our community-academic partnership and are excited to see the grassroots changes programs like EJSI can inspire," said Chan.

The EJSI program is also funded by the NIEHS USC Environmental Health Sciences Core Center, The Kresge Foundation, and The California Wellness Foundation.

Visit the USC blog to learn more about the community partners, EJSI program, and to watch the student-created videos.

Volume 5, Issue 9: September 2014 -  www.niehs.nih.gov/PEPH