Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) for GRASP Fugitive Chemicals Project

  • What is GRASP?

    GRASP—Grassroots Research to Action in Sunset Park—is a community-research partnership consisting of the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, UPROSE, The LifeLine Group, and the RAND Corporation. The overall goal of our partnership is to engage in research to help develop and support community-based actions to address environmental health risks in Sunset Park, Brooklyn, New York. We came together in response to Hurricane Sandy, which made landfall in October, 2012.

  • What is community-based participatory research (CBPR) and why is it important?

    CBPR is a collaborative research approach designed to integrate participation by community members, organizations, and researchers in all aspects of the research process so that scientific research can be used effectively to address community needs. Too often researchers engage in science that does not translate into practice – meaning the research cannot be implemented on-the-ground because the realities of community life and culture were not incorporated into research questions, design, methods, and dissemination practices. This represents a waste of resources and contributes to community mistrust of academic institutions. Our collaboration between two community organizations, UPROSE, and the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance and two research organizations, RAND Corporation and The LifeLine Group, is intended to be a true collaboration where community engagement is incorporated into all aspects of research.

  • Who makes up the Community Stakeholder Group and what are their roles?

    The Community Stakeholder Group (CSG) is made up of various representatives of different Sunset Park groups including: the New York Economic Development Corporation, the office of Congresswomen Nydia M. Velazquez, UncommonGoods, Lutheran Family Health Centers, Sims Municipal Recycling, and community residential leaders. The CSG will meet twice a year to review study progress and advise on communication, dissemination, and translation.

  • What are the goals of this project?

    Recovery workers in NYC industrial waterfront areas such as Sunset Park, Brooklyn, may face unique risks from exposure to “fugitive” chemicals – chemicals dislodged from industrial sites and dispersed through floodwaters to commercial and residential areas where cleanup activities occurred. The main objectives of our study are to: (1) determine the exposure and health risks posed to recovery workers in the industrial waterfront community of Sunset Park, Brooklyn, NY; and (2) develop a plan for translation and implementation of the products of our research.

  • Why are you focusing on Sunset Park?

    Sunset Park is the largest of the Significant Maritime Industrial Areas (SMIAs), areas that consist of clusters of heavy industrial facilities that are vulnerable to hurricane storm surge events located in close proximity to residential communities. Sunset Park residents have expressed concern about their vulnerability to chemical exposures and our work supports the new Climate Justice and Community Resiliency Center founded by UPROSE to help the Sunset Park community adapt to the effects of climate change.

  • What kinds of chemicals are found in Sunset Park and where do they come from?

    This is the first important question we focus on as it is a first key piece of information needed by the Sunset Park community. Our project aims to begin the process of cataloguing the types, amounts, sources, and security levels of chemicals found in various Sunset Park source points and to provide this information to the community.

  • Hurricane Sandy happened over a year ago. How can you know what people were exposed to?

    We will be collecting photos, videos, and written narratives from individuals who were involved in recovery and cleanup activities following the hurricane. In addition, we will search for publicly available materials such as photos and videos from sources like newspaper and magazine articles, television and internet news reports, and public videos on sites like YouTube. All of these items will be used to identify the kinds of recovery activities that took place, the degree to which individuals may have worn protective clothing or equipment, the kinds of materials that people touched or came into contact with, and other information important for determining potential exposures. We note that we do not need nor intend to collect any personally identifying information, we are only interested in the activities that take place and general people characteristics (e.g., gender, race/ethnicity, age).

  • What are fugitive chemicals and what are their risks?

    Many different types of chemicals are stored, used or transit through the community. In addition to both large and small industrial businesses, chemicals are in our vehicles, retail stores, building maintenance compartments, transit storage areas, and other sites near or in the community. Under normal conditions, even dangerous or hazardous chemicals can be used and stored securely and safely but when a large and destructive storm like Hurricane Sandy hits, these chemicals can spill, be swept away, leached out of engines and tanks or otherwise dislocated. When formerly secured chemicals are released, they can be called “fugitive” chemicals and may be carried to other areas through floodwaters and or wind. They can then lodge and absorb into building materials, dirt, household items and all of the debris left by the storm. Currently we do not know what risks these fugitive chemicals might pose. It depends upon the type of chemical released, the amounts that are released, where the chemicals are deposited, who might be exposed during clean up and recovery activities, and the amount of exposure that occurs. Our project is designed to answer some of these questions.

  • What do you mean by risk and exposure?

    In our project, risk is defined as the chance or probability of harm to human health caused by chemical exposures that may be experienced by individuals who were/are involved in cleanup and recovery efforts in Sunset Park following Hurricane Sandy. Exposure is the degree to which an individual experiences contact with a chemical or chemicals during recovery work.

  • What is a health risk assessment and exposure assessment?

    A health risk assessment is the process used to estimate the chance or probability of harm to human health due to chemical exposures. According to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, a health risk assessment can help address questions such as: What types of health problems may result from chemical exposures? What chemicals are people exposed to, and at what levels, and for how long? Are there certain people or groups who might show greater risk of harm? Exposure assessment is one part of a health risk assessment and is the process used to measure or estimate the amount, frequency, and duration of human exposure that may occur to different chemicals.

  • What is a community-based health risk and exposure assessment?

    A community-based approach to risk and exposure assessment means that community input is incorporated into all aspects of the risk/exposure assessment methodology to ensure transparency and directly support intervention planning. In particular, a community-based risk or exposure assessment integrates local community knowledge and data so that estimates better represent actual community risks.

  • What will the results of a risk assessment tell me?

    The results of a risk assessment are only estimates of the potential risk or harm that a chemical exposure may cause. For example, a risk assessment may tell you what the probability of cancer might be in a population encountering exposures to a carcinogen – e.g., 1 in a million. Or a risk assessment may be able to tell you how the levels of your exposure to a chemical compare to safe exposure levels. However it is important to keep in mind that risk assessment results are only estimates that should be used to guide further decisions. They do not tell you anything about your actual, personal, risk, and whether you as an individual may actually suffer any harm.

  • My friends and family have been helping me to clean up my own home. Should I be worried about my health?

    We will be better able to answer this question as our study progresses and we begin to gather the information needed to understand what the risks might be. In addition to risks though, our study will also be able to identify potential solutions and interventions that can be put into place to reduce or mitigate risks and make cleanup activities safer. Despite our limited knowledge about chemical risks, following Hurricane Sandy, it was and is important for communities to rebuild, recover, and return to neighborhoods and homes. Our study results will help the Sunset Park community to have a safer and healthier long-term recovery.

  • What will the community receive or know by the end of the project and how can project results be used?

    Our project will collect many different types of information that can be used to inform different prevention and mitigation interventions. Some of the information we will deliver to the Sunset Park community will include an inventory of chemicals used in Sunset Park by a variety of sources along with data gaps that will need to be filled; the types of recovery activities that took place after Hurricane Sandy and risk factors that may lead to greater potential for exposure (e.g., lack of proper clothing or gloves); and chemicals that individuals may have been exposed to, and for those chemicals where we have health effects information, potential health risks. These types of information can help Sunset Park businesses to identify important chemicals that should be secured; the medical community to look for certain health effects that are associated with likely chemical exposures; community members to engage in safer practices when cleaning up homes and neighborhoods; and community leaders and policymakers to prioritize needs and direct resources efficiently.

  • How can I be involved in the project?

    If you have photos, videos, or written narratives of cleanup and recovery work performed after Hurricane Sandy, be on the lookout for future information regarding how to share those materials with the project team. We will also be holding a focus group during the project period to share some methods and findings and ground-truth our process with the community. More information about the focus group and materials collection will be forthcoming.

  • Who can I talk to or where can I go for more information?

    If you have questions about the Community Stakeholder Group please feel free to contact Ryan Chavez at infrastructure@uprose.org. If you have questions about the project please contact Ramya Chari at rchari@rand.org.