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STS Prof Receives Award to Measure Perceptions of Environmental Health Risk Against City Planning Priorities

December 18, 2013

Science, Technology and Society Assistant Professor Alison Kenner, PhD, along with co-investigators Igor Burstyn, PhD, from Drexel’s School of Public Health and John Lee, MPH, of the Clean Air Council, was awarded an $11,000 grant from the Social Science Research Fund (SSRF) for the project “Mapping Perceptions of Environmental Health Risk: A Comparison of Three Philadelphia Communities.”

The grant will allow the team to investigate perceptions of environmental health problems in three Philadelphia communities located within the River Wards district: Kensington, Port Richmond and Bridesburg. These communities are home to industrial facilities, an international port, rail lines and an interstate highway, and are disproportionately burdened by higher concentrations of pollution.  Kenner, Burstyn and Lee will investigate the relationship between community perceptions of environmental health risks and city planning priorities for the River Wards district.

The SSRF award will give the team the opportunity to set the stage for community-based participatory research through analysis of community knowledge, needs and capacity, through research, community forums and collaboration.

We spoke with Alison Kenner, PhD, to learn more about the grant:

Alison Kenner, PhD

Q: Why did your team decide to pursue this sort of project?
A: This project builds on previous work conducted by the Clean Air Council, Igor Burstyn and Peter DiCarlo from Drexel’s School of Engineering. The Clean Air Council has an EPA grant to do work in the River Wards communities. The SSRF project will build on this work.

Q: What are the current perceptions of environmental health problems in these Philadelphia communities?
A: Currently we don’t have good data on risk perceptions in these communities. This is what we’d like to learn from the project. We’d also like to track the similarities and differences between these three communities to see what issues are shared, where there might be gaps in information, and what forms of community engagement might be effective.

Q: How do you think this project will impact the communities?
A: Our hope is that, through this project, we build relations with the community, which will lead to more community-based projects that directly benefit citizens (citizen science or public data projects, for example). We’re also hoping to get more people engaged in local issues in these neighborhoods by contributing to existing efforts.

Q: How does Drexel’s involvement benefit this project and what role does a social scientist play in this?
A: I think one thing this project does, which isn’t possible through other organizations, is to provide comparative analysis across three communities. Our contribution, at this stage, comes from providing both a descriptive analysis and birds eye view of what’s going on in this area of Philadelphia.