Professors Receive $1.3M EPA Grant to Advance Climate Resilience among Mystic River Communities.
Professors Receive $1.3M EPA Grant to Advance Climate Resilience among Mystic River Communities
The three-year project aims to identify and address the cumulative impacts of climate change that affect the 21 communities surrounding the Mystic River Watershed.
The 21 communities that surround Greater Boston’s Mystic River Watershed are exposed to many of the central threats of climate change, including urban heat islands and coastal and inland flooding, while also confronting multiple chemical exposures.
Now, with a new grant from the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), a team of SPH researchers are collaborating with the Greater Boston-based Mystic River Watershed Association (MyRWA) and other local community organizations to better understand how communities are affected by these chemical and climate stressors, and how they can become more resilient to the current and future impacts of climate change.
Jonathan Levy, chair and professor of environmental health, and Amruta Nori-Sarma, assistant professor of environmental health, will serve as co-principal investigators of the award, titled Advancing Community Resilience to Cumulative Climate Impacts in the Mystic River Watershed (ACRES). The grant totals $1.3 million over three years and is part of broader efforts by the EPA to support projects that advance environmental justice in underserved and overburdened communities across the country. A majority of MyRWA’s neighboring communities include residents who are low-income and people of color. The communities include Arlington, Belmont, Boston (Charlestown & East Boston), Burlington, Cambridge, Chelsea, Everett, Lexington, Malden, Medford, Melrose, Reading, Revere, Somerville, Stoneham, Wakefield, Watertown, Wilmington, Winchester, Winthrop, and Woburn.
The project is timely, as many cities are ramping up efforts to address the global climate crisis and protect their local communities against climate hazards.
The researchers will work closely with the Resilient Mystic Collaborative (RMC), a voluntary group among the Mystic River Watershed communities that builds regional climate resilience, to identify community concerns related to climate change and to develop candidate solutions that highlight health protection and equity alongside sustainability. They will connect this information with a geolocated database and mapping tool that will be used to identify places and populations at higher risk, allowing the RMC to prioritize climate-resilient policies and investments that can decrease and prevent chemical exposures and improve climate resilience among vulnerable populations over time.
“At the heart of the project, we are trying to understand how we can best protect vulnerable people and neighborhoods from chemical exposures given the growing effects of climate change,” says Levy. His team will support the MyRWA/RMC and other organizations actively engaged in this work with quantitative and qualitative analyses that will provide useful insight on how to best protect these high-risk communities.
“These communities are often also disproportionately burdened due to systemic issues such as historical redlining, which have important implications for development that stretch into present-day,” Nori-Sarma says. Climate change solutions may also lead to climate gentrification in urban communities where residents can no longer afford to live in their neighborhood due to the costs of green infrastructure and sustainability, she says. “The impact of exposure to all of these issues is likely to be greater than the sum of its parts.”
The researchers are eager to learn more about how to reduce the impact of multiple climate hazards on vulnerable residents.
“In addition to risks from flooding, storm surges, and heat islands, many communities also have a lot of industrial facilities as well as a lot of traffic and other sources of air pollution,” Levy says. “So we’re trying to understand how to best address the cumulative burden that these communities are experiencing as they face different climate and chemical stressors simultaneously.”
“As we advance climate justice, it must be founded on community-engaged research,” says David Cash, EPA regional administrator for New England. “The work conducted under this grant will help target climate-related challenges facing the disadvantaged communities in the Mystic Watershed that have been overburdened by environmental pollution. This project will yield tangible benefits for people living in the Mystic Watershed and provide policy guidance for the EPA nationwide.”
The team hopes the project will underscore the need for health equity to be centered in climate resilience planning, and provide a framework that can be applied in other communities across the US.
“Our project intends to meet these communities where they are, assess the challenges that they face and understand the interrelated nature of climate exposures and impacts on health, and provide communities with the tools that they need to advocate for themselves and their local environments,” says Nori-Sarma.
“As a student at BUSPH, I learned that community power can be built through research,” says Mariangelí Echevarría-Ramos, Climate Resilience Manager at MyRWA, a graduate of the school’s Master of Public Health program. “One of our community leaders often says, ‘No one knows everything, together we know a lot.’ What an exciting opportunity to blend top-notch academic research with on-the-ground lived experiences to help people stay safe from chemical exposures.”
As the Sustainability Manager for the City of Melrose of 12 years and a BUSPH ’94 grad, it’s great to see this project taking off. It follows on recent regional studies to assess the flood risk for the watershed. The necessary focus on the impact of climate change on our most vulnerable residents must take priority above all else.