Community Engagement Core

The Center for Environmental Health in Northern Manhattan (CEHNM), West Harlem Environmental Action, Inc. (WE ACT), and other community partners and stakeholders collaborate to provide community outreach and education to realize the goals of the Community Outreach and Engagement Core (COEC).

These goals are to develop partnerships with stakeholders, translate and disseminate CEHNM science to the community, and to identify and communicate community concerns to Center members, work with community organizations, New York City (NYC), New York State (NYS), and regional partners to enhance the dialogue on environmental health issues in our region, develop and implement outreach and engagement programs to increase awareness of CEHNM research, and to develop our community’s capacity to apply it to their environmental concerns, and to evaluate outreach models for dissemination and implementation at local and national levels.

We accomplish these goals through:

  • Public testimony at local and state government hearings

  • Briefings and roundtables for policymakers

  • Community forums and conferences

  • Communicating environmental health research findings to coalitions of community organizations to improve the health-related safety of housing in New York City

  • Education for health professionals in practice and training

  • CEHNM newsletters

  • Youth mentoring

The COEC of the CEHNM is a partnership between Center scientists and our primary community partner, WE ACT. Founded in 1988, WE ACT was New York’s first environmental justice organization created to improve environmental health and quality of life in communities of color. WE ACT and CEHNM have been partners since 1996, have collaborated on community-based participatory research and outreach programs, and share a commitment to using science and educational outreach to improve health. The partnership with WE ACT allows us to more effectively learn about community environmental concerns and promotes translation and dissemination of CEHNM findings for community benefit. For WE ACT, partnering with the Center provides a resource to support education and advocacy, and increases their access to scientific and government communities.

Core Director: dh2494 [at] (Diana Hernandez), PhD (MSPH/SMS)

Our Communities

The four communities in Northern Manhattan served by the CEHNM are Central Harlem, West Harlem, Washington Heights, and Inwood. These communities are largely disadvantaged, medically underserved and comprised predominantly of people of color. Based on data from the most recent NYC Community Health Survey in 2006, 35% of the residents of Central and West Harlem and 31% in Washington Heights/Inwood are living in poverty. Central and West Harlem are 67% African-American and 19% Latino, and in Washington Heights, 14% are African-American and 71% are Latino, largely from the Dominican Republic. 

Although we have formed partnerships with and seek to collaborate with other communities as well (notably East Harlem and the South Bronx), these four communities are situated in close proximity to Columbia University, the Harlem Center for Health Promotion and Disease Prevention, the Harlem Hospital Center, and the CUMC and thus constitute our natural catchment area.

Environmental Health

Northern Manhattan's residents are exposed to many environmental hazards, including those within the home (e.g., lead, pesticides) and to occupational and neighborhood-based exposures, including particulates from seven diesel bus depots. WE ACT, working with COEC and other partners, prepared an Environmental Health Report Card using both NYC public data and surveys of residents. Northern Manhattan received a C—below citywide averages with no remediation policies or practices in place—on eight of nine factors, including indoor and outdoor air quality, lead, pests and pesticide, solid waste, access to healthy food, recreational water quality, and open space. These factors contribute to high disease rates, including very high prevalence levels of asthma.  Data from the 2006 Community Health Survey show that asthma hospitalization rates in Central Harlem and Washington Heights/Inwood are higher than for Manhattan, and that cancer death rates in Central Harlem are 30% higher than in Manhattan and 40% higher than in New York. CEHNM research has focused on measuring these exposures and documenting their association with cancer, respiratory diseases and neurodegenerative disorders. Northern Manhattan residents, community organizations, and service and governmental agencies are concerned about these exposures and their health outcomes, but lack adequate information to take effective action. Our COEC has established partnerships to identify the community’s concerns, provide information about CEHNM findings that can be used to address them, and engage community and other stakeholders in dialogues to promote sound personal and policy decisions about environmental health.

Some recent COEC efforts have focused on working with WE ACT on three interlinked projects: the Garbage, Pests and Pesticides campaign; the Community Action for a Renewed Environment (CARE) Level I initiative to assess community environmental concerns; and the CARE Level II initiative to work with community groups to improve management of garbage and trash in residential, school, and business settings.

Stakeholder Advisory Board

Our SAB provides a wide spectrum of advice and input.  Tom Matte, MD, MPH, is the Assistant Commissioner for Environmental Surveillance and Policy at the NYCDOHMH. Dr. Matte is an epidemiologist with expertise in air pollution monitoring and health effects and was instrumental in establishing New York City’s network of 150 air quality monitoring sites. Mr. Ray Lopez, MA, is Director of the Environmental Health Program at LSAFHS, a community health service agency in NM. Mr. Lopez has significant expertise in remediation of housing to reduce mold and other indoor allergens, and is an expert in bed bug control. Linda Weiss, PhD, Director of the Center for Evaluation and Applied Research at NYAM, provides advice and technical support on evaluation of our proposed initiatives. Ms. Laura Liang, MPH, CHES, is the COEC Director at the Center for Environmental Exposures and Disease at University of Medicine and Dentistry of New Jersey (UMDNJ), and provides input on the overall development of our COEC program. Ms. Marian Feinberg is retired but remains active in the Healthy Ports Campaign to reduce diesel pollution, and in campaigns for safe cosmetics, healthy toys and food justice, and advises us about community concerns related to environmental health.