EPA announces nearly $4 million in grant funding to research cumulative health impacts of climate change in underserved communities

    Seattle, Washington (KINY) – Today, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency announced over $3.9 million in grant funding to the University of Washington, the University of Alaska, and Iowa State University for community-based research to examine how climate change compounds adverse environmental conditions and stressors for vulnerable populations in underserved communities, and help inform efforts to mitigate these impacts and improve resilience. The grants are among $21,410,211 in funding awarded to 16 institutions nationwide.

    “We’re excited to support projects that empower underserved communities with science-based resilience-building solutions to protect our most vulnerable residents,” said Casey Sixkiller, EPA Region 10 Regional Administrator. “We’re proud to work together with our university researchers, state and tribal partners, and the local communities to understand how to reduce the burden of these impacts in Alaska, Washington, and beyond.”

    “As the impacts of climate change become more frequent and severe, it’s very important to center community voice. We are fortunate to be working with many community leaders and advocates to address and mitigate contaminant concerns in a watershed that is increasingly impacted by flooding and industrial pollution,” the University of Washington's Principal Investigator Melanie Malone said. “We look forward to co-creating inclusive and equitable solutions with our community partners about environmental justice concerns that most impact them.”

    “While wildland fires are natural in Alaska, the past 20 years have shown a clear shift toward more frequent large fire seasons with millions of acres burned,” said Micah Hahn, University of Alaska Principal Investigator. “During these large fire seasons, smoke impacts broad areas of the state, including many isolated rural communities with limited capacity to assist vulnerable residents. These communities were very affected by the widespread smoke and would greatly benefit from better information to assist their adaptation planning and implementation.”

    “Increasingly, we are seeing that extreme weather, floods, erosion, and permafrost thaw are negatively impacting the quality of water resources and pose extreme stresses on water infrastructure,” said Cristina Poleacovschi, Iowa State University Principal Investigator. “This study seeks to develop a more accurate understanding of how stressors on water infrastructure can impact the health of Alaska Native communities while addressing water injustices through partnerships with tribal councils, local clinics, and regional health organizations.” 

    The following institutions are receiving awards for projects partnering with communities in EPA’s Region 10:

    • University of Washington ($1,267,559): Duwamish Valley Research Coordination Network: Building Capacity for Tribal, Community, and Agency Research in Urban Watersheds

    The goal of this community-engaged project is to build community capacity against contaminants in the Duwamish Valley by collaborating with underserved communities to strengthen communities’ water, soil, and sediment testing programs. The project aims to facilitate decision-making for targeting future cleanup and community visioning for storm water management in the face of frequent flooding due to climate change. The project will work with the communities to monitor soil, water, and sediment contaminants (PAH, PCB, metals, dioxin/furans) in the Duwamish River Watershed during storm water surges/flooding to identify high-risk areas and provide a useful guidance to community leaders for effectively cleaning up the contaminants.

    • University of Alaska ($1,324,131): Filling data gaps: Developing a community-centered tool for assessing health impacts of intersecting climate hazards, wildfire smoke exposure, and social disparities in rural tribal and aging communities in Alaska

    Increasing exposure to wildfire smoke is a major issue in Alaska, with intersecting climate related hazards such as the impacts of warming winter weather on transportation safety, ecological changes driving unpredictable fisheries, and coastal erosion affecting community infrastructure. The research team will use a co-development process to engage academic researchers, state, tribal, wildfire management, public health entities, and community partners to develop locally relevant and practical tools for access to health, climate, and environmental data in a useful and understandable way. Communities will be able to assess compounding climate hazards and social vulnerabilities, prioritize climate-related health impacts and vulnerable groups, design effective interventions, and apply for climate resilience funding.

    • Iowa State University ($1,350,000): Building Adaptive Capacity to Climate Change in Alaska Native Communities by Reducing Health Risks from Water Infrastructure, Quality, and Security

    This project aims to assess the relationships between climate-induced concerns related to water infrastructure and their effects on health in Alaska Native communities, by identifying the effects of climate change on water infrastructure, quality, and insecurity, identifying the cumulative effects of water quality, water insecurity and local vulnerabilities on health, and building adaptive capacity to climate change through community-based adaptation. The project team will conduct community-based monitoring and direct sampling to assess water quality and gather surveys and interviews of community members to capture water insecurity and local vulnerabilities. Results of this project will include water distribution system models and mapped areas of the most vulnerable households at risk of water quality and insecurity.

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