Esther Min

Project title: A tale of two community-engaged research studies: Addressing environmental health disparities in Washington state

Degree: PhD | Program: Environmental and Occupational Hygiene (EOHY) | Project type: Thesis/Dissertation
Completed in: 2020 | Faculty advisor: Edmund Y. W. Seto


The goal for environmental justice is for everyone to have a healthy environment in which to live, learn, work, play and worship. Community-academic partnerships have been effective in addressing environmental health disparities in various settings. This dissertation examined two different community-engaged research projects that focus on understanding the environmental risk and burden for communities in WA. The first, the Washington Environmental Health Disparities Map project, describes a newly formed community-academic-government partnership. We documented the community engaged process of creating the Washington Environmental Health Disparities Map and its application. We displayed nineteen indicators of environmental threat and vulnerability for communities of Washington State in a publicly available platform. We found that census tracts with a higher proportion of people of color and higher proportion of people living below 185% federal poverty levels were disproportionately burdened by cumulative impacts of environmental risks. Age-related susceptibility (children under five) was also found to be related to a greater burden of cumulative environmental risks and individual indicators. The second study used a set of semi-structured interview questions to evaluate the Home Air in Agriculture Pediatric Intervention study in the Lower Yakima Valley, Washington. This study was conducted within a mature community-academic partnership. We examined implementation of the intervention trial and the partnership’s influence on the outcomes of the project. Results showed prioritization of community issues, responsiveness to community feedback, integration of community strengths and resources, and high levels of trust led to a highly functional partnership. The community-academic partnership led to community empowerment and enhanced community capacity to improve pediatric asthma health outcomes. Together, these studies demonstrate how academics can effectively address environmental health concerns with communities, for communities. Incorporating community into the research process is essential to correcting the disproportionate burdens of environmental hazards on marginalized and underserved communities. URI