Low-income communities and communities of color living proximal to and at the fence line of legacy and ongoing hazards and industrial activities—including industrial food animal production (IFAP), fossil fuels-related industry, waste management, raw materials manufacturing, and goods movement—face a disproportionate burden of exposure to toxicants and other hazardous pollutants. Other large populations, primarily with low incomes and of color, also endure an inequitable burden of environmental exposures sustained because of where they are located. In urban areas, low-income residents and people of color typically live closer to industrial facilities, contaminated sites, and heavily trafficked roads than those who are white and with higher incomes.1–7
While the pollutants and their sources can be varied and complex, fence-line, and front-line communities and those living with higher levels of exposure to pollution share common concerns about whether and how such pollution is affecting their environment, and their health and well-being. They may look widely to find answers to their questions about risks they face and seek collaboration with researchers at agencies and in academia. Residents of these communities challenge environmental and public health scientists to conduct rigorous research that addresses the concerns that they identify as a result of their own grassroots observations about environmental conditions where they live, work, and play.8–27 This chapter addresses the various types of community-engaged research that arise from partnerships between communities and researchers and where they fall along a continuum of community participation. Numerous academic researchers have engaged in participatory research that has been highly effective in enhancing the capacity and elevating the role of communities to become valid purveyors of new scientific knowledge that helps them to enhance health in their communities. Such findings from communities can advance environmental justice and strengthen the rationale for advancing community-engaged investigation.
New tools and approaches are also empowering communities to undertake their own investigations, often labeled as “citizen science.” For example, low-cost monitors for air pollution can be used by community members to characterize pollutant concentrations at scales that are relevant to citizen concerns.
Throughout this chapter, we define community as an association of people, schools, religious and other organizations who share common interests, perspectives, and values to engage in joint action to reduce environmental exposure and health burdens. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) defines environmental justice as, “the fair treatment and meaningful involvement of all people regardless of race, color, national origin or income with respect to the development, implementation and enforcement of environmental laws, regulations, and policies.”28
Herein, we aim to provide an overview of the principles and approaches that inform different incarnations of participatory research for environmental justice, demonstrate where they fall along a continuum, highlight a case example that demonstrates how the principles and approaches were applied to achieve community-driven policy change and actions to advance environmental justice, and close with an overview of best practices that can help ...