West Philadelphia is a widely divergent community that extends West and South of “University City” where the University of Pennsylvania is located. About 220,000 people (about 14% of the city’s population) live, shop, and work in West Philadelphia, and approximately three-quarters of the population is African-American.
West Philadelphia has been industrial and residential throughout its history. As a result, the aging housing stock, deteriorating infrastructure, and brownfields pose ongoing environmental health hazards. Although West Philadelphia contains much of Fairmount Park, the largest Park in Philadelphia, it also includes the busy Schuylkill Expressway which contributes significant air pollution to the region.
Serious environmental health impacts in West Philadelphia include:
- asthma in children
- lead poisoning
- chemical exposure from former industrial sites
CEC Activities in West Philadelphia
We have conducted multiple educational activities about environmental health hazards in West Philadelphia through our Academically Based Community Service (ABCS) Courses and our partnership with the Netter Center. These courses address issues of asthma, lead, prevention of tobacco addiction in preadolescents, and community-based environmental health.
CEC hosted an Environmental Health week from July 10th –July 14th 2017 for West Philadelphia high school students as part of the Netter Center and Center for Public Health Initiatives eight week public health internship. CEC director Dr. Marilyn Howarth and coordinator Tom McKeon taught the interns about environmental health problems by using local examples of the environment’s effect on human health. Each day, CEC communicated a different theme: air quality, environmental justice, water quality and lead. The take-home message for these interns was that it was important to consider the environment’s impact on health in almost everything they do.
Philadelphia has 2-3 times higher asthma rates than the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania. Community engagement around asthma health literacy including environmental prevention is needed. CEC has engaged 258 staff at 45 childcare centers around why asthma is an issue in Philadelphia, the problems associated with asthma and how to prevent asthma. CEC engaged staffers by presenting information about sources of poor outdoor air quality, EPA‘s air quality alert resources, and how to use this information for the betterment of the children of their care.
Over the summer of 2017, a grant initiative titled “Making a Difference in Diverse Communities,” from Penn Arts and Sciences provided funding to support addressing challenges in environmental health inequality. In this initiative, students and faculty worked with key stakeholders in municipal, state, and federal government, local schools and community groups to leverage current efforts to eliminate environmental lead exposure through community-based education. One such community group is the Overbrook Environmental Education Center (OEEC), located in the Overbrook neighborhood of West Philadelphia. OEEC facilitated lead soil sampling workshops and environmental health educational programming with CEC.
The Air Quality Index helps
residents know current outdoor air quality conditions
CEC provides environmental health educational support to a West Philadelphia Community Learning Center. CEC has maintained this partnership by providing presentations and demonstrations about environmental lead’s impact on human health.
As the founding Chair of the Environmental Health Committee of the Section of Public Health of the Philadelphia College of Physicians (PCOP), CEC Director, Dr. Marilyn Howarth helped develop the following issue brief. The issue brief collects the scientific information that highlights the ongoing lead poisoning problem in Philadelphia and actions that have been shown to be effective at reducing lead exposure in other communities.
In April 2019, The Overbrook Environmental Education Center sponsored an environmental lead awareness video with the help of the CEC. The video was directed, written, and edited by an academically-based community service Penn student taught by Rich Pepino. He worked closely with the Overbrook community to make this video.. The video can be viewed here:
West Philadelphia has been a long-time focus of the pioneering asthma prevention work of Tyra Bryant-Stephens, M.D., a member of CEC and the Lung and Airway Disease Research Core. The Community Asthma Prevention Program (CAPP) is a community asthma education program and a unique home environmental mitigation program for patients in the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia’s Primary Care Centers.