Community Engagement Core

We foster innovative & interdisciplinary science and build partnerships with community advocates.

Community Engagement Core

The NIEHS p30 Center for Environmental Health in Northern Manhattan (CEHNM) was established in 1997 to identify and understand diseases resulting from environmental exposures with a special focus on translating scientific evidence into prevention. Our vision is to continue to be the premier intellectual hub and operational infrastructure for environmental health across Columbia University's Departments and Schools, the communities we serve, as well as partners, collaborators, agencies, and stakeholders in the U.S. and globally. CEHNM's overarching goal is to foster innovation and interdisciplinary science, career development, and community partnerships. 

As a part of CEHNM, the Community Engagement Core (CEC) conducts and actively disseminates the Center’s cutting-edge, community-engaged environmental health research, making it accessible to community members, policy-makers, researchers and educators, public health practitioners, and healthcare providers through relationship-building and innovative dissemination of scientific findings via in-person and technology-based communication methods.

Our Beginnings

“My main role has been to engage the researchers and staff of CEHNM and WE ACT’s staff and partners in joint activities and exchanges of ideas. The concept of the CEC was introduced to all NIEHS centers by Dr. Kenneth Olden while he was Director of NIEHS, and its purpose was to bring EHS researchers and community residents together to share knowledge and points of view about critical environmental health risks and environmental justice issues. My role was to help connect these two groups, promote information exchange and collaboration. The environmental health researchers and community advocates generally want the same things, but have different perspectives, experiences and information to bring to the struggle.”

Fostering Change

“I have seen my role as a facilitator rather than [as an agent] to carry out a specific agenda. I think we have fulfilled the role of bringing environmental science researchers into productive relationships with community environmental justice groups and with city and state agencies. We have also collaborated with WE ACT’s legislative lobbying initiatives, providing expert testimony that has supported important changes in the regulation of air pollution from vehicles and buildings in NYC, and in the banning of toxic chemicals, including BPA, from children’s products.”

Dave Evans, PhD
Co-Director of the CEC, 2000-2017
Professor of Emeritus of Clinical Sociomedical Sciences (in Pediatrics) and Special Lecturer

Engaging Researchers

“I think any director wants to make sure that members are actively engaged in the Center, that they have interest in what's going on, that they attend the meetings but also learn, and set up new collaborations. So that's a key part of the Center: to foster those kinds of collaborations. The other thing that's important for the Center is the bringing in new people, whether it's a senior investigator who can bring their expertise or junior investigators to get them interested in environmental health science.”

Regina Santella, PhD
Professor of Environmental Health Sciences, Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health 

Praxis-Driven: Environmental Health and Justice Leadership Training

“The Environmental Health and Justice Leadership Training was something that we launched in, I believe 2003. The idea was to take the sort of Environmental Health 101 course that a lot of graduate students take and make that accessible to community leaders in Northern Manhattan in a way that was very practical. The focus was on not only conveying public health and environmental science basics, but also integrating that with organizing and advocacy principles, and with the direct experiences that people had in their day-to-day lives. It was a praxis-driven training which focused on taking lived experiences and traditional public health pedagogy and meeting right in the middle.”

Swati Prakash, MS
Former Environmental Director, WE ACT for Environmental Justice

A History of Our Impact

The purpose of this Storyboard is to highlight CEHNM and CEC’s historical and current impact through relevant projects, activities, policy-related accomplishments, and established community relationships.

Air Pollution

City Retrofit Order (Intro 1253-C)


WE ACT worked with Council Member Costa Constantinides and the Climate Works for All Coalition to advance Intro 1253, which requires large buildings to cut their emissions 40% by 2030 and 80% by 2050.


South Bronx Air Pollution Exposure Study


Dr. Markus Hilpert and South Bronx Unite have been working together on an air pollution study in the Mott-Haven-Port Morris section of the South Bronx, an area surrounded by highways, fossil fuel power plants, waste transfer stations, diesel-truck facilities, and a large maritime industrial area.

Video: Melissa Barber | Air Pollution Research in the South Bronx: Protecting Community Health and Dignity

WE ACT’s Mother Clara Hale Bus Depot


WE ACT, the Mother Clara Hale Community Task Force (MCHCTF) and the Metropolitan Transit Authority (MTA) joined forces in 2008 to create a cooperative vision for the rebuilding of the Mother Clara Hale Bus Depot. This groundbreaking collaboration transformed a former pollution source into a shining example of green transit infrastructure.

Airborne Environmental Health Issues

Late 1990s - Early 2000s

Dr. Patrick Kinney worked alongside community members in North Manhattan to spearhead groundbreaking air pollution research. Specifically, Dr. Kinney helped lead a collaborative project measuring sidewalk air quality with high schoolers and other community members in Harlem. Dr. Kinney’s other contributions helped cement the importance of tracking asthma and other airborne environmental health issues alongside communities.

Video: Dr. Patrick Kinney | Air Pollution Research with High School Students Finds Its Way to the EPA


Hair Care Product Use among Women of Color: A Northern Manhattan Intervention

Dr. Jasmine McDonald’s team is conducting research and an educational intervention for prenatal women of color in Northern Manhattan on hair care product-related exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals (EDC). EDCs have been posited as potential environmental factors affecting breast cancer risk during pregnancy.

Bill Prohibiting PFAS Chemicals in Food Packaging


A NYS bill to prohibit PFAS chemicals was signed into law in December 2020 after considerable efforts by WE ACT to push to make food packaging safer for consumers - Blacks/African Americans in particular, who are disproportionately exposed to these chemicals due to the high number of fast food restaurants in their communities.

Closure of Hazardous Waste Loophole


Thanks to the advocacy work of WE ACT and Clean and Healthy New York, a bill to amend the Environmental Conservation law to classify waste from oil and gas exploration as hazardous was signed into New York State law. Learn more.

Child Safe Products Act


After several years of lobbying, particularly through the efforts of WE ACT and Center member Dr. David Evans, the Child Safe Products Act was signed into New York State law. The piece of legislation seeks to protect children and infants from exposure to dangerous chemicals included in children’s products. Dr. Evans testified in 2016 before the New York City Council in support of the bill. WE ACT also worked alongside Clean and Healthy New York in the JustGreen Partnership.

Amendment to Reduce PFAS Chemicals in Firefighting Activities and Equipment


WE ACT provided a crucial endorsement of an amendment to make the discharge, manufacturing, and use of PFAS-containing firefighting foam illegal and require manufacturers to provide written notice of possible PFAS presence. This was signed by Cuomo into law in 2019. Learn more.

Menstrual Product Labeling Act


WE ACT was instrumental in garnering support for the passage of the NYS Menstrual Product Labeling Act, which required manufacturers of period products to disclose ingredients used in manufacturing such that it is visible to consumers. Tampons and pads often have harmful chemicals that have been linked to cancer, endocrine disruption, and reproductive harm.

Leveraging Healthcare Communication for Arsenic Testing in New Jersey


In a collaboration with New Jersey government partners, Drs. Steven Chillrud and Joseph Graziano led a study examining arsenic levels in private well water in Hunterdon County. The study was able to reach 433 households for well testing, in a county that is a hotspot for naturally occurring arsenic.

Safe School Water Act


WE ACT helped garner support for legislation signed into law requiring schools to test for lead contamination—particularly in higher-poverty communities—and disclose the results and remediation plans to the community, as lead exposure among young children can cause developmental issues.

Frank Lautenberg Chemical Safety for the 21st Century Act


This Act was an overhauled process for regulating toxic chemicals, which included the ban of asbestos and requirement of companies to prove chemical safety before including in products. Dr. Frederica Perera testified in Congress and to other policymakers, working with dozens of other media outlets to help push for this legislation.

Well Testing in Maine


Dr. Joseph Graziano published several papers related to arsenic exposure in drinking water, finding harmful health impacts in children among other results. Dr. Graziano also testified in support of a bill enacting the Private Well Testing Act to require household wells to be tested before a real estate transaction.

TRIS-free Children and Babies Act


Dr. Orjuela testified in support of legislation that was then signed as an expanded bill in 2014 banning certain chemicals in children's products. TDCPP and chlorinated organophosphate are linked with cancer and altered brain development.

Bisphenol A-Free Children and Babies Act


This Act was signed into law which prohibits the sale of pacifiers, baby bottles, or other infant products that contain BPA. Learn more.

International Toxin Research

In Taiwan, primary hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) is the leading cause of cancer death for males and the second cause for females. Dr. Regina Santella, alongside partners in Taiwan, conducted a case control study to evaluate the role of aflatoxin B1 (AFB1) exposure on risk of hepatocellular carcinoma (HCC) and found that AFB1 exposure is a risk factor for HCC risk.

Healthy Homes

Asthma-Free Homes Bill


WE ACT championed a bill to require landlords to conduct routine inspections for asthma triggers, use effective remedial measures, inform tenants, and enable doctors to order NYC housing inspections. As NYC has been slow to implement these laws. WE ACT serves as a watchdog to ensure the laws are fully implemented. Learn more.

Emergency Tenant Protection Act: Major Capital Improvement Reform


New York State bill introduced to eliminate permanent rent hikes to regulated buildings championed by WE ACT. The bill would allow for energy efficient upgrades without threat of displacement. The bill was passed by the NYS Assembly and is currently in the NYS Senate.

Clean Heat Initiative


Enacted as a part of PlaNYC, the Clean Heat policies aim to lower wintertime ambient air pollution by phasing out dirty No. 6 heating fuel oil and transitioning to comparatively cleaner No. 4, No. 2, or natural gas. Dr. Diana Hernández and Dr. Matt Perzanowski published a number of papers describing the impact and implementation of Clean Heat policies. Learn more.  

Hurricane Sandy Research

This collaborative paper included Drs. Evans and Hernandez and Peggy Shepard of WE ACT and found significant implications of hurricane stress for gestational duration. They found evidence for greater need for institutional preparedness among public housing tenants (infrastructure, HR, energy backup, transportation, communication, safety).  

Climate Mobilization Act Amendment

This new bill amends Local Law 97, expanding the number of buildings that will have to comply with the emissions reductions rules while ensuring the equity and justice WE ACT fought to instill in the original legislation. Learn more.