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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 Partnership-MEEP.

An Outreach Strategy For Equity In Environmental Issues
(OSEEI)

Executive Summary

            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 American population.

            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 issues?
  • What are the attitudes of African Americans in Ohio toward environmental issues?
  • What are the environmental concerns of African Americans in Ohio?

            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 ...........

Major Findings

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 environment. 
  • 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 life.

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 American communities.
  • 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 indoors.

Drinking Water

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.

Water Pollution

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 of hopelessness.

Ineffective Politicians

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 risks.

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.

ISSUES

RECOMMENDATIONS

Implications for Ohio Environmental Protection Agency (OEPA)

Ohio’s EPA does not have a culturally specific educational outreach strategy to inform people of floor on environmental matters.

  • Ohio’s EPA, in concert with educational institutions should allocate resources to develop culturally specific educational strategies, K-12 on environmental matters
  • State 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 of color
  • The OEEF peer review panel and Board of Trustees should be encouraged to seek firms providing educational services to African American communities in Ohio

Ohio’s 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

  • Ohio’s 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
  • Allocate resources to develop culturally specific informational strategies on potential health effects from environmental hazards
  • Public 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 them
  • The media should be encouraged to cooperate by exhibiting responsible press coverage to its audiences and their health

Ohio’s EPA has no mechanism to obtain broad-based African American participation in environmental decision making and policy development

  • Work with Ohio’s General Assembly to hold referenda in formulating policy and regulatory strategy on issues relating to environmental pollution and restoration
  • Allocate resources to community-based groups fro training and research that identifies local environmental issues and concerns
  • Ohio’s EPA should establish mechanisms to ensure that environmental justice concerns are incorporated in its long-term planning and operations

There 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 development

  • Recruit and assign an individual with experiential knowledge of minority issues to facilitate coordination and accountability for Ohio’s EPA environmental efforts.
  • Develop 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

ISSUES

RECOMMENDATIONS

Implications for African American’s in Ohio

Local community organizations such as Black churches, the NAACP, Urban League have not provided guidance to the environmental justice movement in Ohio

Place Environmental Justice as an issue on communities organization’s statewide agenda

There has not been sustained or systemic efforts to involve children of color in environmental activities

Black churches, NAACP, Urban Leagues, NTA, NABSE, schools and others can create environmental activities to involve children in educational initiatives

African Americans are not aware of various risks, i.e. health, economic and quality of life, involved with environmental hazards

Community organizations can form environmental task forces comprised of community representatives, EPA representation, an health officials to develop a method to conduct outreach to impacted communities

African Americans do not associate illness (physical, behavioral an mental) to environmental threats

Medical and mental health professionals can develop reading materials for affected persons to explain associated health risk from environmental threats


ISSUES

RECOMMENDATIONS

Implications for Health Professionals

The 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 weakness

Health researchers, regulatory agencies, and policy makers should collaborate to encourage lifestyle change concerning time spent indoors

Neurotoxins 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

Psychological an medical health practitioners should collaborate to design holistic approaches to isolate cause and effect relationships between stressors and adverse outcomes related to environmental risks

There does not exist sufficient data on actual negative health effects due to proximity and time of exposure to deleterious sites

Require health professionals to solicit background information in patients regarding exposure and proximity to environmental pollutants

Environmental and health data are not routinely collected and analyzed by income and race

Conduct research incorporating socio-economic and demographic factors that may link certain populations at greater risk from environmental hazards



McElrath Environmental Education Partnership
(MEEP)

Executive Summary

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)
ISSUES/CONCERNS/RECOMMENDATIONS

ISSUE OR CONCERN

RECOMMENDATION

The focus of poor citizens is usually on multiple life demands (economic, housing, health, law enforcement, etc.).

Public 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.

Communications even in a small community can be a problem when a history of lack of trust exists.

What 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.

McElrath 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

While not a role for the MEEP, an effort to amend this problem can result in elected officials acting with a vested interest in McElrath

Ravenna 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.

Health 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.

Development in around Ravenna Township is occurring without participation of McElrath residents. Changes in zoning ordinance implications are not easily accessible to residents.

Sustainable Development is an environmental issue and the Planning Commission should take steps for the authentic participation of the residents of McElrath

Residents expressed a serious concern for the need for environmental education for children.

OEEF 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.

There are approximately 12-14 abandoned dwellings in McElrath Park that have a negative impact on ecosystems and the community quality of life

The MEEP should develop a plan with the landowners to demolish these dwellings and improve the lots

There were no volunteers to the MEEP after this project concludes

The 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.

 

 
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