Garett Sansom awarded Early Career Fellowship from the National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine (NASEM) Gulf Research Program to expand his research on risks to Houston’s environmental justice communities

July 2020.  Prior research provides evidence of disparate levels of exposure to environmental risks among low socioeconomic status and majority minority communities in the United States. Such areas, often called environmental justice communities, experience higher than average levels of air, water, and soil pollution exposure, which can be exacerbated by population and urban growth that increases exposure to extreme weather events such as hurricanes and nuisance flooding. “Despite decades of research there is still much we do not know about the health consequences of living within these communities, best practices to mitigate issues, or how the compounding impacts of natural and anthropogenic hazards affects individuals and groups,” said Dr. Garett Sansom, Co-investigator at the Texas A&M University Superfund Research Center, and Research Assistant Professor at the Texas A&M University School of Public Health. To address these issues, Dr. Sansom’s research is focused on marginalized communities within highly industrial regions primarily along the Houston Ship Channel, Galveston Bay, and locations throughout the petrochemical corridor that experience natural and anthropogenic hazards. By employing a community engagement framework, wherein Sansom collaborates and co-learns directly with community stakeholders throughout the life of a project, Sansom strives to improve our understanding of, and responses to, chemical and nonchemical stressors in these areas. “Direct community engagement ensures that research both advances science knowledge, strengthens the applicability of findings to local issues, helps build local capacity to enact positive change within the community, increases community awareness and resilience, and improve health outcomes”, said Sansom.

As a recipient of the 2020 NASEM Early Career Fellowship, starting from September 1, 2020 and through the next 2 years, Sansom will expand upon his previous research that identified several gulf coast communities that had detectable levels of lead in their drinking water. The United States Environmental Protection Agency has recently proposed changes to their Lead and Copper Rule that is poised to help protect communities and children who may be exposed to these harmful compounds. These proposed changes are in line with his recommendations following his 2019 manuscript published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, and present a good opportunity to grow on his initial findings. Utilizing site-suitability analysis via ArcGIS, regions at risk of exposure will be located and recruited into a study that will provide a holistic lead exposure analysis based upon drinking water and paint samples. Common health and behavioral consequences based upon lead exposure, such as reduced standardized test scores, will be collected for all school-age children within the home. Preliminary analysis has identified several communities and a goal of 520 homes will be approached for recruitment in order to collect a generalizable group. “Community-based organizations, such as Texas Environmental Justice Advocacy Services, Galveston Bay Foundation, and Several Houston Independent School District centers have already committed their support for this effort,” said Sansom. This study should prove to be one of the largest such endeavors accomplished within the United States.