Community Health

Adding “Environmental Justice” to the Scope of Our Work

For the past four years, researchers from the Boston University School of Public Health and Brigham and Women’s Hospital have partnered with NorthStar on a research project funded by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) STAR Cumulative Risk Assessment (CRA) initiative that explores how a combination of factors may be increasing disease rates among city residents. “Cumulative risk” looks at how chemical pollution and “social stressors” (such as poverty, discrimination, unhealthy and unsafe housing, and living in a dangerous neighborhood) can pile up and harm some communities more than others. When its findings are finalized, the research study can support community efforts and city planning to identify and protect residents who are especially burdened by the pileup of health risks.

Sustained involvement in this research study has expanded our organizational field of vision. We recognize that we need to embrace an “environmental justice” perspective and promote in our coalition-building and collaborative efforts a broader, more integrated response that considers the accumulation of both chemical and nonchemical risks confronting individuals, families, neighborhoods, and communities.

Because it has taken a long time to get the research work done, much of the community education and dissemination work will occur after the funding period. We discussed this challenge in our team’s contribution to an article on STAR CRA grantees’ researcher-community relationships submitted to the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health special issue on environmental health disparities.

Having joined the project team as a local partner, city environmental project manager Ray Holberger has the research background to sift through the research-based articles to identify findings that would be of interest and particular relevance to the public and to translate the technical language into layperson’s terms. In turn, NorthStar’s involvement in the research project has lent credibility to our letters of affiliation with the city in funding proposals to clean up and repurpose contaminated sites in struggling neighborhoods. For us, backing such remediation initiatives aligns with our commitment to support the well-being of people of color and low-income people—who are disproportionately affected by both chemical and nonchemical risks.

Continuing the partnership between NorthStar and researchers from Boston University School of Public Health, funded by the National Institutes of Health (NIH), is researching how common pollutants such as lead and mercury affect community members of New Bedford. Furthermore, new to this partnership, is a research internship. This internship opportunity is offered to a student from New Bedford High School who is responsible for collecting samples, conducting data tabulation, and helping to recruit community members for the research study. This internship is a great opportunity to develop real-world skills in the public health and/or research field. Researchers are conducting this study in New Bedford nail salons in order to collect toenail clippings and analyze the nails to see which pollutants present and at what levels.

Promoting Access to Healthy, Locally Grown Food

The Clasky Park Farmers’ Market receives support from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development Community Development Block Grant program to enable low-income families to access healthy, locally grown food. NorthStar has agreed to manage the farmers’ market “Green Bucks” coupon program; specifically, we:

  • Provide application forms to families interested in using the Clasky Park Farmers’ Market “Green Bucks” coupon program, assist them in completing them, and establish their eligibility for program participation;
  • Print and distribute “Green Bucks” coupons to eligible families;
  • Pick up the coupons submitted as payment to farmers at the market (instead of requiring the farmers to mail them in for redemption—thereby reducing a barrier to farmers’ acceptance of “Green Bucks” coupons) and reimburse farmers based on collected “Green Bucks” coupons.

We are not the market manager, operator, or owner. Our fiscal role is entirely flow-through and limited to serving low-income families who use the Clasky Park Farmers’ Market “Green Bucks” coupon program. Our staff volunteer their time—including dedicating part of their Saturdays to picking up the redeemed coupons from the farmers—and NorthStar donates all related printing and administrative support and services.

Why are we involved? Our limited support role of the Clasky Common Farmers’ Market is mission-driven; we want to help reduce disparities in access to and consumption of fresh fruits and vegetables, and improve health outcomes for New Bedford’s low-income families.

State Street Community Garden

We have finished our third growing season in the State Street Community Garden—across the street from Acushnet Commons. The garden not only produced a lot of vegetables that neighbors harvested, but also has been, as passersby have noted, a place of beauty in a neighborhood without a lot of green space. A next-door neighbor continues to be involved in watering, weeding, and harvesting vegetables from the garden. She said each morning she enjoys the peace that the garden affords.

Our name: NorthStar
Our name refers to a powerful symbol of freedom in our national and local heritage. Following the North Star on their dangerous journey northward, many escaped slaves sought refuge in the New Bedford area. The famous ex-slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglass lived his first years as a free man in New Bedford. In 1847, he launched a newspaper called North Star. The use of “learning” in our name refers to not only school learning, but also lifelong learning in all aspects of one’s life – personally, aesthetically, professionally, socially, and spiritually.