My name is Sean O’Connor, and I am a rising senior at Franklin and Marshall College. I am majoring in environmental science and after I graduate, I plan to apply to law schools to eventually pursue a career in environmental policy. Through my studies at Franklin and Marshall, and my internship at CEET, I have become increasingly passionate about the environment and how it affects public health.
What is your summer research project?
This summer, I worked in collaboration with Shane Schechter under the supervision of Marilyn Howarth, MD, and Adrian Wood, MPH to investigate the hazards auto-related businesses in Elmwood and Kingsessing pose to the environment and community. In recent years, there have been many junkyard fires in Southwest Philadelphia that pose a threat to residents’ health and safety. There were also concerns about chemicals and heavy metals leaching from cars sitting in junkyards and auto shops. We met with the Southwest Dev Corporation and learned about the sheer quantity of these businesses as well as the community’s environmental health and safety concerns. Using sources like Google Earth, the Philadelphia Licensing and Inspection database, and historical maps, we identified six different categories of hazards at the businesses we studied: fire, water, soil, air, and lead hazards, as well as infectious disease risk. Then I used ArcGIS to map and identify hotspots where there were clusters of multiple hazards, as well as measure the distance between hazardous sites and schools and playgrounds. We also took soil samples from sites we identified as having a possible lead hazard, which Shane and Adrian then analyzed using an XRF heavy metal detector to detect metals like zinc and lead. Additionally, due to the resident’s concerns about possible illegal activity at these businesses, I conducted an analysis of the violent and property crime rate in the last 30 days in Elmwood and Kingsessing.
What are the implications of your research?
There are many hazards that auto shops and junkyards pose to their surrounding community, and even when these businesses receive citations for being unsafe, these issues can go unresolved for years. In the meantime, these sites are contaminating the air, soil, and water, potentially creating or worsening existing health conditions like cardiovascular disease. Therefore, inspections of sites with active citations should be conducted more frequently, especially at sites near schools and playgrounds, and Philadelphia Licensing and Inspection should require quicker remedying of violations to ensure the health and safety of residents. Additionally, more soil testing should be conducted and remediation should be considered for sites identified as having elevated levels of heavy metals in the soil. Also, a more in depth study should be conducted to determine if there is a relationship between the number of auto related businesses in a neighborhood and crime.
What new skills have you gained from your research?
Through this project, I strengthened my research and ArcGIS skills, as there was a lot of data to go through and I had to think critically about what my results might suggest. I also gained practice in preparing for and giving a presentation to a large group of people, as well as to community leaders at Southwest CDC. These skills will prove to be valuable as I finish college and beyond.