Loma Linda University collaborates with local community on environmental justice for residents near the San Bernardino rail yard
LOMA LINDA, Calif., August 30, 2010 – The LLU School of Public Health, teamed with a local environmental justice community organization, has begun a research project ultimately aimed to result in cleaner air for the thousands of residents living near the BNSF San Bernardino rail yard—the one rail yard out of California’s 18 deemed to present the most public health risk by the California Air Resources Board.
With close to $1 million in funding from the South Coast Air Quality Management District, a team of public health researchers and community members will gather data on the health status of the several thousand people living closest to the bustling facility. Such data is key to bringing about change. While epidemiologic studies have indicated a range of health risks associated with inhaling fine particulate matter or living near heavy traffic, no actual data exists on the adverse health effects experienced by people living near facilities such as the BNSF San Bernardino rail yard.
"This research could provide the necessary impetus to help mobilize the railroad companies to improve the air quality in and around their facilities," says Susanne Montgomery, PhD, MPH, co-principal investigator and director of the school’s Center for Health Research.
"Achieving a cleaner environment for residents will require interventions based on scientific data specifically about this population," adds Sam Soret, PhD, MPH, co-principal investigator and chair of the department of environmental and occupational health.
Community members trained in health research practices, in collaboration with researchers, will collect primary data through household- and school-based surveys on the prevalence of cardiovascular disease, respiratory disease, respiratory symptoms, and biologic outcomes, including lung function and airway inflammation. Researchers will also analyze secondary data from the California Cancer Registry to determine whether there is an excess of new and fatal cancers observed from 1999–2008 that could be attributed to diesel smoke and other airborne emissions.
The research team, which includes Penny Newman, director of the non-profit Center for Community Action and Environmental Justice, and her staff, will use community-based participatory research (CBPR) methods for this investigation and will therefore work in close partnership with the area’s residents, who have actively petitioned local government to begin such a study. The goal is to develop a data-informed community response plan to reduce exposure to airborne emissions and their related impacts on health.
Other members of the research team are co-investigators Synnove Knutsen, PhD, MD, MPH; Larry Beeson, DrPH; John Morgan, DrPH; Seth Wiafe, MPH; Rhonda Spencer-Hwang, DrPH, and David Shavlik, MSPH.