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Community Voices Part 2: Standing Up Against a ‘War on Science’

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Two ongoing projects illustrate what can be accomplished when community advocates partner with TEX scientists to amplify their voice. In this two-part series, hear community leaders’ perspectives on the ins and outs of working with scientists. 


Part 2: Standing Up Against a ‘War on Science’

The environmental hazards facing residents in Brandywine, Md. are both daunting and multifaceted, including pollution from power plants, a coal-ash landfill, toxic waste treatment facilities and heavy diesel traffic. But rather than bowing to the forces that can seem overwhelming at times, the community is finding space for empowerment. 

“We as a community need not feel powerless when it comes to preserving the quality of our water, air and our soils,” says Kamita Gray, president of the Brandywine TB Southern Region Neighborhood Coalition (BTB). “What community science has taught us is that the ‘war on science’ is real, and the sad truth is that the laws have been designed to accommodate pollution, rather than prevent it.”

Gray and the BTB have teamed up with TEX to give Brandywine residents the tools to actively participate in bottom-up, as opposed to top-down, initiatives to measure local air quality and its potential health impacts.

“This partnership is valuable because it is addressing the true concerns of the community, not those of a funded agenda,” Gray says. Historically, she notes, this inclusive approach is unusual. Local community organizations are rarely given the chance to lead an environmental project, despite the fact that they are the ones directly impacted by the problem.

Taking advantage of local expertise creates a trusting, respectful relationship between communities and scientists so that meaningful progress can be made. Although using community development techniques and utilizing community expertise may sometimes take longer, the outcomes are far superior: More people are involved in community decision making, better decisions are made, residents have more confidence in their own capabilities and communities derive greater satisfaction from the outcomes.

BTB has worked with outside scientists in the past, but not at this level of collaboration, and the results were disappointing. Gray says the TEX process, by contrast, is leveling the playing field so that community leaders, even with no scientific expertise, can have an impact—perhaps even an impact that extends beyond their own specific community.

“With partnerships like the TEX program, everyone wins in obtaining their objectives,” Gray says. “Science partnerships and citizen-based research and monitoring provide real hope for communities everywhere.” 

Read more about the Brandywine, Maryland project.

mgoodwin editor

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