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Duke University

Superfund Research Program

Community Engagement Core

Project Leader: Elizabeth Shapiro-Garza
Grant Number: P42ES010356
Funding Period: 2017-2022

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Project Summary (2017-2022)

The ultimate goal of the Community Engagement Core (CEC) is to facilitate prevention and intervention strategies that result in community-level reductions in exposure to targeted contaminants, either through changes in behavior that reduce or eliminate pathways to exposure or through community-driven actions to remediate the sites of contamination. The CEC is accomplishing these goals by connecting communities impacted by environmental contaminants to the research conducted by the Duke University Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center. Given the focus of the Duke SRP Center on the ways in which exposure to hazardous substances during pregnancy or early childhood can lead to serious health consequences in later life, the CEC focuses on preventing early life exposures.

To achieve this goal, the CEC is partnering with communities across North Carolina and southeastern Virginia. The CEC works with these communities to collaboratively devise optimal strategies for reducing and preventing exposures in pregnant women and children from three primary sources: 1) subsistence consumption of fresh water fish from contaminated waterways (mercury and PCBs); 2) air, soil and water borne contaminants from former industrial sites (PCBs, PAHs, TCE, heavy metals, etc.); 3) pesticides and soil contaminants in community gardens built on brownfield and other contaminated sites (heavy metals, PAHs, etc.).

The CEC takes an innovative approach to community engagement, one that is highly participatory and bidirectional, involving communities in conjunction with Duke SRP Center researchers and trainees in determining the questions they ask, the methods they use to answer them, and the ways in which the results they generate will be applied. The Duke SRP Center CEC model for community engagement informs their approach to accomplishing each of their specific aims, following a similar set of iterative steps, tailored to each project and community, to:

  1. Identify and form partnerships with at-risk communities;
  2. Work collaboratively with the community to understand current sources of exposure;
  3. Work collaboratively with the community to analyze pathways to exposure;
  4. Apply results to develop and implement community-led action plans and materials to disseminate more broadly;
  5. Analyze and report on outcomes and disseminate models broadly.
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