Environmental Education & Planning
DEBLAR & Associates,
Inc. has conducted significant projects focusing on empowering
underserved communities with education and awareness concerning
their relationship with the environment. The first published in
1995 in the Ohio EPA State of the Environment Report described the
Outreach Strategy for Equity in Environmental Issues-OSEEI.
The second is the final report issued in 1999 for the Ohio Environmental
Education Fund on the McElrath Environmental Education
An Outreach Strategy For Equity
In Environmental Issues
The Outreach Strategy for Equity
in Environmental Issues (OSEEI) is a project designed to incorporate
environmental justice concerns into Ohio's Comparative Risk Project.
Conducted by DEBLAR and Associates, the project serves as a statewide
outreach model to receive input regarding environmental issues from
African Americans in Cleveland, Cincinnati, Dayton and Columbus.
These cities collectively represent 65 percent of Ohio's African
The OSEEI project serves to supplement
traditional community outreach and public meeting strategies that
lack cultural competency and sensitivity. OSEEI addresses the question
of inequity by examining the attitudes and perceptions of targeted
samples of Ohio’s African American population.
The project team employed a triangular
research design that combined the strength of quantitative and qualitative
science research. The survey provided quantitative information
and documented variability in Ohio's African American population.
The focus group meetings and Expert Review Panel provided qualitative
information and insights necessary for an in-depth understanding
of values and the reasons why people hold those values. The literature
and data search has strengthened the project by identifying existing
information on environmental justice and its impact on African Americans.
The analysis of data focus on three specific questions
related to the goals and objectives of the OSEEI project.
- How aware are African Americans in Ohio about environmental
- What are the attitudes of African Americans in Ohio toward environmental
- What are the environmental concerns of African Americans in
Six hundred surveys were distributed
throughout the four cities. Four hundred seventy- seven citizens
responded to the survey, representing an 80% response rate. The
socio-demographic profiles of the respondents varied. Twice as
many females and citizens who are 40 year of age or older completed
the survey than did males or younger residents. A higher percentage
of respondents had incomes below $25,000 with half of the citizens
reporting owning their homes. The majority of respondents stated
living at the same address for five years or more. Less than half
of the respondents reported participating in neighborhood or community
groups. Over half of the citizens either attended college or had
graduated from college with either an associate or college degree.
What we discovered from the study ...........
Perceived Awareness of Environmental Issues:
- The vast majority of respondents felt they were somewhat informed
about air, water and land problems in their cities.
- If African Americans had an environmental problem, they would
contact the Ohio EPA or their local health department for help.
- When seeking answers to questions concerning environmental problems,
African Americans in Ohio would contact their local health departments
or the Ohio EPA.
- African Americans in Ohio appear not to be aware of the proximity
or existence of potentially damaging facilities such as incinerators,
electricity substations, sewage pumping stations or sewage treatment
plants within their communities.
- Although survey respondents reported perceiving their families
to be in good health, the vast majority strongly agreed that the
environment could cause health problems. Focus group participants
tended to express specific problems such as cancer, respiratory
ailments, gastrointestinal disorders, asthma and a sense of hopelessness
in dealing with issues they felt they could not control.
- In thinking about the environment today, the majority of respondents
perceive the environment to be less safe compared to 5 years ago.
As examples, the respondents cited specific industries located
in communities of color. They reported difficulties in breathing,
eye sensitivities and other respiratory problems caused by combustion
from buses and automobiles as representing major stressors.
Attitudes Toward Environmental Issues:
- When asked about their air, water and land, African Americans
have definite opinions and concerns about the risks that may exist
in their communities. When African Americans are approached about
the term "environment,” there is a tendency not to respond
with the same level of enthusiasm. The term environment is viewed
as "save Willie and flower child," unlike the words
air, water and land, which African Americans readily identify.
- Respondents perceive that people living in urban settings, African
Americans and those individuals with low-incomes have more environmental
problems than whites, people with high incomes or those living
in rural areas.
- Ohio's African Americans feel policy makers in developing environmental
policy do not consider their concerns and values.
- While those causing environmental problems and the government
were viewed as being totally responsible for clean ups, the majority
of citizens agree they have a responsibility for cleaning up the
- African Americans believe that even though all of us are at
risk, future generations and the elderly were felt to be at greatest
risk from environmental problems.
- The reason given for the minor involvement of blacks in environmental
issues is the feeling of not being personally empowered to bring
about a change in their environment. Issues of major import are
those that are understood to represent a problem to them personally
and that of their families.
- The most effective methods for getting African Americans involved
in environmental issues is by developing outreach and marketing
strategies geared specifically to this population-- targeted where
they live and assemble. Respondents felt there exist a great need
for children and adults to be educated on how the environment
impacts their health, economic future, and general quality of
Concerns About Environmental Issues:
- The majority of African Americans in Ohio were concerned about
their air and water being most damaged by environmental hazards.
The topic of land drew the greatest number of responses from Dayton
residents because of the concern over the large number of landfills
located in their communities.
- Ohio's African Americans are not a monolithic group on the subject
of the environment. Concerns for specific issues varied by region,
age, income, education and gender.
- Ohio's African Americans are concerned that the media and regulators
have downplayed the disparity of environmental inequities in African
- The issues most frequently cited by the respondents were:
Outdoor Air Pollution
African Americans in Ohio are concerned about
the health effects of breathing in air that has an offensive odor.
They reported problems with breathing eye, irritation, cancer, and
allergies. A majority reported how they had adjusted their life
style from enjoying the outdoors to spending a great deal of time
Health risks such as cancer, liver problems,
gastrointestinal disorders were reported by focus group members.
The Expert Review Panel reinforced the potential for these problems.
The smell, taste and unappealing color were cited as prohibiting
many residents from drinking water from the faucet. The added financial
burden of buying bottled water and/or installing a water system
appeared to represent a major concern to the people.
Focus groups and the Expert Review Panel identified
factory run-offs, dead or contaminated fish and offensive smell
of major concern. Many residents fear lead and mercury poisoning
from contaminated fish consumption. Despair and anger were apparent
from the inability to take advantage of their surroundings.
Pesticides on Food
Fear from not knowing if what they are eating
would either make them sick or kill them represented a major concern
for citizens. There exist the potential threat of cancer in gastrointestinal
tract as well as neurological diseases, skin rashes and a dire sense
Residents felt politicians were more concerned
about the issues of special interest groups than those issues of
the general population. African Americans do not feel they have
a voice in policy decisions. There is a failure to develop well-conceived
health care legislation due to politics, which leads to increased
despair and apathy for African Americans.
Lack of Information on Health Effects
Residents perceive that if a problem is not known
to exist then there is no action to be taken. Physicians feel that
lack of information tends to delay diagnosis and increases health
Lack of Education on Environmental Matters
Residents feel that a lack of knowledge prevents access and an
ability to assess environmental risk.
Please visit the OEPA web site for full reports.
for Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA)
EPA does not have a culturally specific educational outreach
strategy to inform people of floor on environmental matters.
EPA, in concert with educational institutions should allocate
resources to develop culturally specific educational strategies,
K-12 on environmental matters
initiatives like the Ohio Environmental Education Fund (OEEF)
should make an effort to encourage and fund community based
organization models that educate and empower communities
OEEF peer review panel and Board of Trustees should be encouraged
to seek firms providing educational services to African
American communities in Ohio
EPA does not have culturally specific information on potential
health effects of environmental risks. Pamphlets and
other materials presently used have failed to consider targeted
audiences such as African Americans
EPA should explore a collaborative effort with the Ohio
commission on Minority Health to develop and deliver useful
information on issues of health associated with the environment
resources to develop culturally specific informational strategies
on potential health effects from environmental hazards
service messages should be placed in visual and voice media
trusted by African Americans during those times when the
largest numbers of potentially effected persons can receive
media should be encouraged to cooperate by exhibiting responsible
press coverage to its audiences and their health
EPA has no mechanism to obtain broad-based African American
participation in environmental decision making and policy
with Ohio’s General Assembly to hold referenda in formulating
policy and regulatory strategy on issues relating to environmental
pollution and restoration
resources to community-based groups fro training and research
that identifies local environmental issues and concerns
EPA should establish mechanisms to ensure that environmental
justice concerns are incorporated in its long-term planning
does not exist an environmental justice office to coordinate
and monitor issues of concern to African Americans and other
people of color, resulting in lack of information and policy
and assign an individual with experiential knowledge of
minority issues to facilitate coordination and accountability
for Ohio’s EPA environmental efforts.
programs for communities of color on how to reduce risk
as well as examples of pollution prevention techniques which
could be applied in communities of color
for African American’s in Ohio
community organizations such as Black churches, the NAACP,
Urban League have not provided guidance to the environmental
justice movement in Ohio
Environmental Justice as an issue on communities organization’s
has not been sustained or systemic efforts to involve children
of color in environmental activities
churches, NAACP, Urban Leagues, NTA, NABSE, schools and others
can create environmental activities to involve children in
Americans are not aware of various risks, i.e. health, economic
and quality of life, involved with environmental hazards
organizations can form environmental task forces comprised
of community representatives, EPA representation, an health
officials to develop a method to conduct outreach to impacted
Americans do not associate illness (physical, behavioral an
mental) to environmental threats
and mental health professionals can develop reading materials
for affected persons to explain associated health risk from
for Health Professionals
amount of time African Americans spend indoors is a negative
contributor to their health. Those most at risk are
the young, the elderly, and persons susceptible to respiratory
researchers, regulatory agencies, and policy makers should
collaborate to encourage lifestyle change concerning time
such as lead in blood have been shown to exist in high dosages
in African American children. These neurotoxins are
believed to be significant contributors to learning disorders
and social maladjustment among this population
an medical health practitioners should collaborate to design
holistic approaches to isolate cause and effect relationships
between stressors and adverse outcomes related to environmental
does not exist sufficient data on actual negative health effects
due to proximity and time of exposure to deleterious sites
health professionals to solicit background information in
patients regarding exposure and proximity to environmental
and health data are not routinely collected and analyzed by
income and race
research incorporating socio-economic and demographic factors
that may link certain populations at greater risk from environmental
McElrath Environmental Education
The future of the McElrath Park community in
Ravenna Township Ohio remains uncertain. The forces contributing
to this state of affairs include a citizenry with a low expectation
for responsive public officials and agencies, a citizenry with marginal
participation in the electoral process, and a citizenry with a fragmented
network of grassroots and community based organizations.
Among the developments that are working against
the inertia of disenfranchisement are a renewed interest among newer
residents and some of the previous residents that citizen education
can lead to positive social action. The McElrath Environmental
Education Partnership was unable to uncover any significant evidence
that a particular serious or set of serious environmental issues
or threats exist in or near this community. What was discovered
was an amalgam of political, social, and educational issues that
evolve around race and poverty that contribute heavily to the continuing
existence of conditions identified by researchers from Kent State
University in 1969.
Abandoned and deteriorating buildings, substandard
housing units, junkyards, unmarked septic tanks, poorly monitored
private wells, undeveloped lots, and lack of enforcement of wastes
dumping regulations continue to mar the landscape and the psyche
of the residents of McElrath Park. The collective impression
left on the minds of visitors and on neighboring communities is
McElrath Park is a place where the residents have little interest
in maintaining or improving the quality of their lives. This
is not the truth.
The MEEP remains a model process for this or
similarly situated rural community can use a tool to improve its
condition and its philosophy concerning the environment and its
impact on human health. For reasons that will be described later
residents remain in search of true empowerment.
McElrath Environmental Education Partnership (MEEP)
focus of poor citizens is usually on multiple life demands
(economic, housing, health, law enforcement, etc.).
and elected officials and Agency leaders can play a key role
in formulating solutions or elimination bureaucratic and administrative
roadblocks to sustainable development in McElrath.
even in a small community can be a problem when a history
of lack of trust exists.
is needed is a sincere public awareness program led by local
media and utilizing the churches, selected radio stations,
billboards, flyers, and the Internet, for example, for different
mixes of stakeholders.
Park has all the indications that the level of voter registration
and activity that is lower than areas of the Township that
is not majority African American
not a role for the MEEP, an effort to amend this problem can
result in elected officials acting with a vested interest
Schools, Ravenna Health Dept., and the Portage Health Dept.
routinely collect general and specific health data on children.
This data is apparently not shared between agencies and the
public and represents a weakness in delivery of health services.
data on children living in McElrath (specifically respiratory
and blood lead Levels) be combined and compared. With
the participation of Robinson Memorial Hospital and NEOUCOM
any resultant health concerns be provided the MEEP and residents.
in around Ravenna Township is occurring without participation
of McElrath residents. Changes in zoning ordinance implications
are not easily accessible to residents.
Development is an environmental issue and the Planning Commission
should take steps for the authentic participation of the residents
expressed a serious concern for the need for environmental
education for children.
should encourage Ravenna Schools to submit a proposal for
a culturally sensitive environmental education program designed
for primary school students. This program should be
conducted with the King-Kennedy Center as a funded partner
with Ravenna Schools.
are approximately 12-14 abandoned dwellings in McElrath Park
that have a negative impact on ecosystems and the community
quality of life
MEEP should develop a plan with the landowners to demolish
these dwellings and improve the lots
were no volunteers to the MEEP after this project concludes
MEEP to serve for two years consist of ten persons consisting
of; one representative each from Leadership Portage County,
Portage Health Dept., MIC Board, Ravenna Housing Authority,
and six residents of McElrath Park.