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Superfund Research Program

Community Engagement Core

Project Leader: Joseph A. Hamm
Grant Number: P42ES004911
Funding Period: 2022-2027
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Project Summary (2022-2027)

Reducing the amount and toxicity of hazardous substances is a complicated, long-term goal of the Superfund Research Program (SRP) that requires effective relationships among scientific, governmental, and community stakeholders. The SRP researchers work closely with the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, and especially its Division of Environmental Health (DEH), in a series of community engagements in Saginaw, St. Clair Shores, and Otsego. All three communities are impacted by dioxins and dioxin-like compounds and are important foci of the DEH’s health education interventions. These community engagements traditionally take an information dissemination approach, seeking to provide community members with the information necessary to make informed prevention decisions.

The team wants to leverage the substantive and methodological expertise of the core and SRP center to iteratively listen (Aim 1), empower (Aim 2), and evaluate (Aim 3), with a primary focus on using engagement efforts to optimally build trust. Despite their common environmental health challenges, all three communities vary considerably in terms of their social context: They include a community facing significant environmental injustice issues (Saginaw); an affluent community that is likely to have the resources to self-protect without the help of the state (St. Clair Shores); and a politically conservative, rural community (Otsego). Addressing each community’s unique concerns is critical to both effective engagement and trust-building.

To this end, Aim 1 activities collect community perspectives that are interpreted with the help of a Local Advisory Group to ensure that local knowledge and experience play a central role throughout the sense-making process. As part of Aim 2, the Community Engagement Core collaboratively engages these communities through a series of health education interventions. The team leverages their core’s expertise to improve these engagements by integrating community perspectives and developing strategies to explicitly address the salient vulnerabilities identified in Aim 1. For Aim 3, the researchers conduct rigorous evaluations of the immediate and cumulative impact of engagements and adapt for the next year.

All the core’s activities are conducted in close collaboration with the Research Experience and Training Coordination Core and project leads to ensure the integration of center expertise, but the researchers also create opportunities for the center investigators to learn from these communities and from the DEH. To ensure the impact of these experiences on the center, the Community Engagement Core engages in capacity-building activities to better position investigators and trainees in the MSU SRP Center and across SRP to build trust with the individuals and groups impacted by their work.

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