Addressing the impact of climate change on vulnerable Orange County communities is the focus of the newly launched UCI Center for Environmental Health Disparities Research. Directed by public health faculty members Jun Wu and Alana LeBrón, the center will work to solve complex challenges through a cross-campus approach involving experts from engineering, social ecology, medicine, pharmacy & pharmaceutical sciences, nursing and social sciences.
“We look forward to bringing faculty, staff and students together from across the university to tackle environmental health issues,” says Wu, a professor in UCI’s Program in Public Health. “The center will play a critical role in developing collaborations on and beyond campus for future research and education.”
Having spent much of their careers working directly with community partners, Wu and LeBrón understand that approach is essential for designing effective public health interventions that address environmental health inequities. For example, they’ve worked with the nonprofit Orange County Environmental Justice organization to study the levels of lead in soil across Santa Ana to identify at-risk neighborhoods and inform contamination remediation policies.
The two plan to assemble an advisory board that includes local leaders as well as existing and new community partners to serve as a forum for sharing local insights and perspectives to determine specific issues to take on. Seminars and events that are open to the public will also be hosted at the Center for Environmental Health Disparities Research throughout the year to engage those who are directly affected and initiate broader conversations about environmental justice.
“UCI has been building up to this moment,” says LeBrón, an assistant professor in UCI’s Program in Public Health. “Climate change has long been an area of expertise at the university. We reached a turning point in the past year when a critical mass of people interested in enhancing environmental justice helped make the creation of the CEHDR possible. We share the goal of conducting community-based research to promote equitable environmental health policies locally, regionally and nationally.”