The Loka Institute

Making research, and science & technology responsive to democratically-decided social and environmental concerns


Loka Institute - STS in Action Project

Michael Heiman, Dickinson College

Posted May 24, 2008

Where do you engage--with what communities, organizations and/or individuals?

Starting at Love Canal, my commitment to community outreach and science dates from the early 1980s with actual work waxing and waning as conditions and resources warranted. While not very active at present (as I am on sabbatical studying global energy policy) over the past few years I have participated in the following: a. Through my large introductory environmental science course (ES 132), for the past 16 years students have connected with local communities (often where they were from or else those with pressing pollution problems) to prepare toxic waste and chemical release reports using the on-line federal Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) and relevant epidemiological data bases. This project continues annually regardless of which instructor is teaching the course. Over the past year the research conducted focused on plants identified by environmental activists and scientists working in Cancer Alley (Louisiana) between Baton Rouge and New Orleans along the Mississippi River. b. Through the upper-level course I offer in environmental policy and again through independent research, students have prepared reports on topics requested by the Clean Air Board of Central Pennsylvania (CAB).  Created through a coalition of local physicians, ministers, attorneys, and lay personnel, CAB has been active pushing for both local community-based air monitoring for PM 2.5 particulate emissions (attributed to the heavy diesel truck traffic in the region) and passage of truck anti-idling legislation by the state government. Some samples of reports prepared and posted on-line through CAB include:

Reducing Diesel Truck Idling in Pennsylvania: An Examination of a Proposed Statewide Anti-Idling Regulation

Jensen Gelfond

Environmental Studies Department

Dickinson College

Spring 2007

Developing a Volunteer Air Monitoring Program for Diesel Exhaust Particulate Matter

Caitlin DuPrey

Dickinson College

April 28, 2006

Legislative and Technological Solutions to Truck-Generated Diesel Particulate Pollution In Cumberland County, Pennsylvania

Jensen Gelfond

Environmental Studies Department

Dickinson College

Independent Research November 2006 c.

Thanks to a generous grant from the Henry Luce Foundation, my colleague Candie Wilderman and I have been able to engage 15-21 students each fall semester for the past three years in a semester-long comparative assessment of the Chesapeake Bay and Lower Mississippi (i.e., Louisiana) watersheds. Focusing on the resource-dependent communities whose livelihoods are threatened by pollution, land loss, and over-harvesting, we have met with dozens of community leaders and renowned regional scientists (including 3 Goldman Prize winners and a MacArthur "genius" award recipient) active with grassroots environmental monitoring, research, and advocacy. Adopting an entire watershed approach, we have also spent time covering such issues as acid mine drainage in the upper Susquehanna watershed and mountaintop removal in West Virginia. As part of the student's contribution, each has completed a semester-long independent research project on some aspect of watershed (mis)management that has been identified by a local watershed group through our Alliance for Aquatic Resource Monitoring (ALLARM). More information is also available on the "Luce" program, as well as the student's blog on the Louisiana portion of the experience. While ALLARM definitely is a leader with the "Science BY the People" approach I have advocated for in the past and reported on at the Loka workshop, the reports done by students above fall more into the Science FOR the People" range as semester constraints limited their participation in community science training outside of their additional work with ALLARM.

2. What are your goals and what do you bring to the table?

In addition to the aforementioned education mission, I have published on the democratization of the practice of science. One major example is my article: “Science by the People: Grassroots Environmental Monitoring and the Debate Over Scientific Expertise.” Journal of Planning Education and Research, 16(4) 1997: 291-299. Also as revised in Ron Eglash, et al. (eds.). Appropriating Technology: Vernacular Science and Social Power. Minneapolis, MN: The University of Minnesota Press, 2004. My commitment to the role of universities and colleges in actually training community residents to conduct science by and for themselves remains, as embodied through the ALLARM program.

3. How do you navigate between claims-making and steering outcomes beyond academe?

I am not sure what this means. My primary mission is to introduce my students (as future professionals and advocates) to environmental impacted communities where the science cited by various stakeholders is contested. Moreover, through independent research and class projects, my students have prepared reports of use by local grassroots activists. In the past we have worked with residents in such diverse regions as Love Canal, NY; Chester, PA; across the Susquehanna Watershed; and in "Cancer Alley" (Louisiana). Independently I have conducted workshops in TRI data access for community groups under an EPA Environmental Justice Grant in EPA Region III (primarily for Pennsylvania and West Virginia). My goal is not so much to steer outcomes as it is to empower local stakeholders to acquire the requisite information that they can then decide how to use in order to achieve their own goals--i.e., to empower, not to steer toward any specific outcome. Nonetheless, my work in the past has attracted the attention of a Fortune 500 Company sufficient to have its management call my college president complaining about my activities and pulling a grant that they had offered the college. I am grateful to have been given the chance to write the reply that the college president signed in response!

4. What are the outcomes (e.g., publications, community change, curriculum)?

See above on curriculum and publication. As for community change, many of my students upon graduation moved on to positions of professional responsibility as scientists, managers, and policy analysts for national, state, and local environmental agencies and activist organizations (e.g., USEPA; USDOE; USDI; the states of CA, MD, NY, NJ, and PA; the cities of New York, Philadelphia, and Pittsburgh; NRDC, USPIRG, Penn Environment; et al.). In addition they have served as interns with these and similar organizations prior to graduation.

5.  Goals for this project

The practice of science should be democratized and we should be committed to demystifying a science that both informs local conditions and also is used too often in a manner that disempowers local residents concerned about environmental conditions in their communities. Links should be established with such well-known grassroots science advocacy groups as the Environmental Research Foundation, the Center for Health, Environment and Justice, and the Science and Environmental Health Network [editor's note:  Done!  See links]. The principals in each respectively are Peter Montague, Lois Gibbs, and Carolyn Raffensperger. Through them and independently, contact should be established with the many communities of color and other environmental justice battlegrounds where the practice of science is contested. Periodically these groups have a chance to meet and network through conferences sponsored by CHEJ (above) and even the USEPA at its annual environmental justice (advisory committee) and TRI training meetings. We can likely piggyback onto these as invited guests should we request such.

STS in Action Workshop Abstracts