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$800K Bezos Earth Fund Gift to Support Community-Based Air Quality Monitoring

School of Public Health Researchers to Focus on Traffic-related Pollution in Mid-Atlantic

By Kelly Blake By Bemnet Faris

Houses near the highway

The Community Engagement, Environmental Justice, and Health group awarded $800,000 by the Bezos Earth Fund will support the development of an air-quality monitoring network to help identify disparities facing vulnerable communities.

Photo by Michael Duva/Getty Images

An $800,000 gift from the Bezos Earth Fund will expand University of Maryland researchers’ efforts to monitor air quality in communities exposed to traffic-related pollution across the mid-Atlantic region. 

Amazon founder Jeff Bezos’ $10 billion commitment to fund climate scientists, activists, NGOs and others will support the Community Engagement, Environmental Justice, and Health (CEEJH) group as it develops a community-based air quality monitoring network to collect high-resolution information about air pollution and exposure risks through community engagement and community science. The group is led by Sacoby Wilson, an associate professor with the Maryland Institute for Applied Environmental Health.

Every day, vulnerable communities of color across the United States face disproportionate exposure to environmental hazards such as noise, air and water pollution, dilapidated housing and low-quality infrastructure. These unsafe conditions are frequently the legacy of racist policies and structural racism, including exclusionary zoning, racial covenants and redlining, and can produce adverse health risks and lower quality of life.

As an environmental health scientist as well as an environmental justice advocate, Wilson has been working for more than 20 years to “INpower” affected communities—Wilson coined the term to describe helping stakeholders connect to and utilize the power that they already have individually and collectively—and combat environmental injustice.

One focus of his CEEJH work is understanding, measuring and combatting exposure to traffic-related air pollution, which research has shown can lead to cardiovascular disease, reduced lung function; increased asthma rates, emergency room visits and diabetes; and greater overall morbidity and mortality.

“There is a critical need for community-engaged research that focuses on collecting better data on neighborhood-scale exposures, as well as mitigation policies aimed at reducing inequities,” said Wilson. “Our long-term goal is to reduce air pollution exposure and associated health inequities in communities with EJ issues across the mid-Atlantic region.”

In addition to increasing the amount of data available to make crucial decisions to improve the health of vulnerable communities, the Bezos Earth Fund gift also will allow Wilson and the CEEJH team to increase the participation of underrepresented groups in science, build their data analysis skills and bolster their trust in science. Armed with data, marginalized communities are better able to advocate for political change that improves their quality of life and advances environmental justice.

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