Environmental Health and Justice

Environmental Studies, American Studies, Biology
Summer 2010
Instructors: Laura Goldin, James Stewart

Basic Description

In this Community Engaged Learning JBS students will explore environmental justice and health concepts as they relate to toxic exposures and their impact on family and community health issues. They also will examine land-use decision-making and other laws and policies in relation to the siting of hazardous waste facilities, access to fair and livable housing, and other issues at the juncture of environmental challenges and social justice. Along with strong grounding in the law, science and policy involved, students will acquire essential advocacy skills and training in environmental field monitoring and sampling methodology to engage in these issues directly, and work with community partners throughout the summer to address current challenges facing low-income residents in the Waltham and Greater Boston community. 

The intended target audience for this JBS is wide, including students across the disciplines at all levels with an interest in engaging in the community as part of their academic work. Students with an interest in Environmental Studies, HSSP, Sociology, Women & Gender Studies or Legal Studies may have particular interest. We will select 15 students for participation based on interviews and personal essays.

Course Content and Learning Outcomes

The JBS will consist of these interwoven components:

1. Women, Environment, and Social Justice (AMST 102a): Instruction and engagement with the Waltham and Boston area communities in environmental justice and toxic exposure and health concepts and issues as they affect women, families and communities.

Students will become immersed in the law, policy, science, history and societal impacts of a range of environmental health and contamination issues challenging families and communities today. They will focus in particular on low-income, immigrant populations and promising new initiatives and policies for addressing these issues.  Students will become involved first-hand with many of the topics studied through field trips and visiting speakers, discussions with the stakeholders, field observation, research, writing and reflection.  They also will plan and implement environmental health projects and activities with local community organizations, such as partnering with the Medical Foundation Community Health Division’s Lead Action Collaborative project to reach out to residents of high-risk housing to reduce childhood lead paint exposure, and with the EPA Lead Enforcement Initiative.  

Throughout the JBS, students also will address the particular challenges of toxic exposures in low income housing in Waltham through twice-weekly work at the Waltham Alliance to Create Housing’s (WATCH) “Tenant Advocacy Clinic,” organized and staffed by Laura Goldin's classes in collaboration with the Boston College Law School Legal Assistance Bureau and Greater Boston Legal Services. All students will become trained advocates at the Advocacy Clinic, meeting in teams with clients to hear concerns, provide assistance, furnish information on basic legal rights and provide targeted referrals to other needed social services. Students will learn the applicable substantive housing and discrimination law and the relationship between toxic exposure and housing conditions, as well as critical skills such as interviewing, legal research, and application of facts to law, negotiation, written and oral advocacy and case management, and working with low income and multi-ethnic communities. Students may also see selected housing cases as they proceed through the court system, and work in collaboration with the Harvard Law “No One Leaves” eviction prevention program and local organizations on direct intervention initiatives with low income tenants in the Boston area to prevent homelessness and sub-standard housing conditions due to foreclosures.

2. Environmental Health (BISC 6B): Instruction in the science and tools of environmental health, giving students skills to explore directly the exposure issues experienced by local communities.

Students will gain solid introduction to the fundamentals of the environmental health field, and the tools and methodologies used to explore the relationships between the environment and human health.  Students will become familiar with the environmental health paradigm, the conceptual model of the field, including underlying principles of hazard identification, exposure assessment (source-pathway-receptor model), toxicology, risk assessment and characterization and interpretation of epidemiological studies.

One specific focus of study will be on understanding environmental exposure issues in residential settings, and in particular within low income communities. Students will learn the potential environmental health effects of particulate exposures (fine, ultrafine, etc.) nitrogen oxides, carbon monoxide, lead, hormone disruptors, mold and aldehydes. In addition they will be trained on current equipment, sampling techniques and sampling strategies used to characterize potential residential hazards.  They will learn how to use indoor air monitoring equipment and x-ray fluorescence, analyze lead in paint, conduct surface and air sampling for mold, collect heavy metal samples, and learn related sampling handling procedures and documentation requirements, e.g. maintaining field sampling records and chain of custody. This will prepare them for their field practicum in which they can put this knowledge and training into direct use to assist the Department of Environmental Protection, Department of Public Health, other partner agency or organization for this aspect of the JBS work.

3. Practicum (94a EL)

Students use their environmental health monitoring and assessment and other tools in a supervised settings in the field along with community partners or government agencies. Student fieldwork might involve calibrating equipment, planning inspections, accompanying inspectors, taking measurements, participating in evaluation of worker protection at remediation sites, analyzing sampling data, participating in the regulatory enforcement process, or other tasks. Potential partners include environmental health specialists from the Boston Public Health Commission, Department of Public Health, Department of Environmental Protection, a municipal Public Health department, or residential lead inspectors. With these partners, students may address a range of possible community hazards such as lead, mold, formaldehyde, unknown chemicals smell reports, radon, carbon monoxide, infectious diseases, diesel exhaust and cat or other allergens. Laura Goldin is currently working on creating appropriate partnership arrangements with these agencies based on their needs in summer 2010.

Optional Post-JBS Fall Internships

One Course, On-Campus Fall Option

Students completing this JBS will have the opportunity to participate in the ENVS 89a Environmental Internship course in fall 2010 to further the students’ understanding and involvement. (Students would do this as part of full fall term tuition payment to Brandeis.) Although any student may participate in this program, JBS students would have special knowledge and training to enhance their work with one of the organizations collaborating with this JBS or engaged in related work.  Placements might include EPA or DEP, Health Resources in Action and the Lead Action Collaborative, Jewish Family and Children’s Series, Waltham Alliance to Create Housing, Healthy Waltham, ACE or others.  The ENVS 89a course requires participation in weekly seminars and assignments, a substantial final paper, and formal presentation of the student’s work at the Environmental Internship Symposium at the end of the semester, typically well-attended by many internship supervisors, other students and faculty and outside visitors.

Two course, Off-Campus Fall Option

Students may elect to pay full tuition for a summer + fall 20-credit JBS. These students would participate in a 13-week 8-credit fall program consisting of a full-time ENVS89a internship (at least 275 hours) and an ENVS98 independent study. The full-time fall internship would give students an opportunity to apply their JBS learning further with an appropriate organization or agency anywhere in the US or abroad. (In most cases, these internships would need to be established before the summer JBS begins.)  Students would enroll in the 4-credit ENVS89a Environmental Internship Seminar (see above) and participate with the instructor and other students in online weekly seminars and discussion groups via LATTE postings, forums and blogs. Students would submit their final paper during the fall, but be able to present at the Environmental Internship Symposium upon their  return to campus. (This online model has been working very successfully for several years for the  ENVS89a summer internship course.) Students would also enroll in a 4-credit ENVS98 independent study, during which they would explore in depth a topic directly related to their internship work. In collaboration with the instructor, students would develop a reading list and research questions, and write a series of short papers as well and final paper.


  • Women, Environment, and Social Justice, AMST 102a: Existing course, 6 credits. (I plan to request an increase to 6 credits due to substantial student time commitment and additional work for CEL components. The name may change to better reflect JBS goals, for example, Environmental Justice and Toxics.)
  • Environmental Health, BISC 6b: Existing course, 4 credits.
  • Environmental Health and Justice EL Practicum, 94a, 2 credits.

General Schedule

8 weeks of instruction in classroom and in the field, plus practicum, as follows:

  • Instruction: average weekly 7 hours in the classroom plus 7 hours in additional fieldwork instruction for a total of 14 hours. Classroom hours will likely be concentrated more heavily into the earlier weeks in order to prepare students to engage in field practicum work and projects, and into  the later weeks for reflection and integration of field experiences and presentations.
  • Community Engagement and practicum activities directly supervised by instructor: 6 hours.

Total contact hours: 160 hours (approximately 80 hours for AMST 102A 6-credit course, 40 hours for BISC 6B 4-credit course, 40 hours for 94a practicum. Laura Goldin may shave this back if it feels like too much for students to handle.)

Sample Weekly Schedule

Mon, Wed: 9 to 11:30 a.m.  In class
  11:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. Brown-bag lunch seminar
  12:30 to 4 p.m. Open for supervised fieldwork, class projects, practicum.
Tues, Thurs: 12:30 to 4 p.m. In class and in the field with instructors.

Also, on Monday and Thursday from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m., the students will staff the Tenant Advocacy Clinic throughout the JBS, and participate in one or two possible Sunday community activities.

Assignments and Evaluation

For evaluation purposes, students will complete some assignments specifically reflecting progress in each individual course component of JBS. Most assignments, however, will be designed intentionally to require students to integrate their learning in this multi-disciplinary JBS.

AMST 102a: Papers requiring research and analysis; community engagement projects and fieldwork; Advocacy Clinic work including legal research and drafting and case management, tenant advocacy; Weekly Case Forum, study questions and reflection assignments (usually by LATTE class forum); oral presentations.

BISC 6B: Mid-term and final exams, study questions, research paper integrated with other components of JBS.)

94a EL Practicum: Participation in hands-on work, reflection assignments, final presentation.

Campus Resources

  • LATTE and computer access/laptop use.
  • Classroom use 7 hours/week.
  • Possible loan of digital camera or other video tools.

Other Costs

  • Transportation: One dedicated 15- or 12-person van for 8 weeks, with travel reimbursement for one or two overflow cars. (Vans can be shared with other JBSs if schedules work out.) Estimated costs for one 12- person van for 8 weeks: Outside van rental: $4,000 (or Branvan rental by arrangement with Public Safety and Transportation Director: $90/day, including gas.)
  • Project materials, equipment, food: $900
  • 2 faculty:
    • AMST 102A and 94A EL Practicum: Laura Goldin hopes to teach JBS AMST 102a course and supervise 94 Practicum for 8 credits course replacement or relief 2010-2011 or beyond, or for course banking (subject to review of policy).
    • BISC 6B: Dr. James Stewart and colleagues have offered to teach for $3,000.
  • Course Assistant: one or two undergraduate Community Engaged Fellows (CEFs), $1,500 to $2,000 each. (Two would be preferable, since Tenant Advocacy Clinic operation and substantial community engagement involvement generate considerable logistical challenges in addition to usual TA assistance.)
  • Optional ENVS 89a Internship and ENVS 98: Laura Goldin would teach as “extra” assuming limited number of students.

Effect on Program and Department

This JBS would enhance the Environmental Studies Program by enabling students to carry on their classroom learning in the field and within the community without the constraints of the normal semester's scheduling limitations. It also would allow us to integrate into a rich, interdisciplinary learning experience for students knowledge and training in Eenvironmental Law and Justice with the science and tools of Environmental Health and Toxics.