Grassroots Research to Action in Sunset Park (GRASP)

Sunset Park overlooking Buttermilk Channel and NY Harbor

Sunset Park overlooking Buttermilk Channel and New York Harbor.

Photo by Timothy Vogel / CC BY-NC 2.0

Project Background

On October 29, 2012, Super Storm Sandy landed causing widespread and severe devastation to the New York metropolitan area. Sunset Park in Brooklyn, NY, is a heavily industrialized waterfront community. Community members feared hurricane damage might release industrial chemicals and pollutants, contaminating residential and community spaces. To help, we developed GRASP—Grassroots Research to Action in Sunset Park—a community-research partnership. GRASP comprises the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance, UPROSE, The LifeLine Group, and the RAND Corporation. Our goal is to engage in research to help develop and support community-based actions to address environmental health risks in Sunset Park.

Pictured (from left to right): Regina Shih (RAND), Chris Chaisson (The LifeLine Group), Elizabeth Yeampierre (UPROSE), Ryan Chavez (UPROSE), Natasha Dwyer (NYC-EJA), and Juan Camilo Osorio (NYC-EJA).

Recognizing that events like Hurricane Sandy may increase in the future due to climate change, our partnership came together to provide evidence-based solutions to environmental health problems in Sunset Park and help the community engage in long-term planning for a sustainable future. GRASP builds on each partners’ previous work to accomplish these goals including: the New York City Environmental Justice Alliance’s Waterfront Justice Project, launched in 2010 as New York City’s first citywide community resiliency campaign; UPROSE’s Climate Justice Community Resiliency Center; The LifeLine Group’s community focused exposure and risk assessment applications; and RAND’s community resilience and disaster preparedness research portfolio.

We Take a Grassroots Research-to-Action Approach

A model of the GRASP CBPR approach

Our work is rooted in the community-based participatory research (CBPR) model, a collaborative research approach specifically designed to integrate participation by community members, organizations, and researchers in all aspects of the research process.

The goal is to ensure that research arises from community needs, and that results are responsive to and inform community actions. In addition to the GRASP team, our projects also include Community Stakeholder Groups to obtain a diverse set of views from different Sunset Park community sectors (e.g., healthcare, business, youth/elderly leaders, etc.).

On the right is an illustration of our general CBPR approach, which is used to develop multiple projects.

Why Sunset Park?

Like other neighborhoods of New York City, residents and workers responded in the immediate aftermath of Sandy, assisting others directly affected and undertaking cleanup activities.

However, the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation has designated the majority of Sunset Park’s waterfront as a New York State Environmental Zone as well as a "potential environmental justice area," meaning it has areas with high poverty and unemployment rates.

Indeed, Sunset Park is an active industrial area with a strong and growing residential population as well that is diverse in age, national origin, racial background, and education.

At a Sunset Park Climate Adaptation and Community Resiliency Forum convened by UPROSE in December 2012, community residents and local workers shared stories about helping out with post-storm cleanup activities and their concern about exposures to toxic chemicals released during the flooding.

Given the industrial nature of Sunset Park, our team is carrying out this project to provide community members and other stakeholders with information about the risks they face because of heavy environmental pollution so protective measures can be taken during cleanup and recovery activities.

Project Area Study Map for Assessing and Managing Health Risks from Fugitive Chemicals after Hurricane Sandy

Learn More About Our Projects

Our collaboration currently has two projects:

  1. A cooperative agreement funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention/National Institute for Occupational Safety and Health to assess the health hazards faced by response and recovery workers following Hurricane Sandy. For more information contact Dr. Ramya Chari,
  2. A grant funded by the New York City Donors Collaborative to examine potential industrial chemical releases due to hurricane events, and identify best management practices for preventing or mitigating toxic releases through climate adaptation and pollution prevention strategies. For more information contact the project’s Principal Investigator, Eddie Bautista, Executive Director at the NYC Environmental Justice Alliance,