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Community Outreach and Engagement

Rural residents generally have poorer health than urban residents. They experience higher rates of chronic illness and poor overall health, live in areas with fewer medical providers, and are more likely to be uninsured. In addition, rural Americans are also more likely to be older and live in poverty. Because of their proximity to agriculture and agribusinesses, rural people have significant exposures to bioaerosols, organic dust, and allergens; agricultural pesticides and farm chemicals; and antibiotic-resistant pathogens from the livestock industry. Safe drinking water is also a challenge as 70% of rural residents obtain their drinking water from private, unregulated water supplies.

To address these rural health disparities and the environmental and agricultural related exposures present in rural areas, the Community Outreach and Engagement Core (COEC) seeks to promote environmental health in rural Midwestern communities by delivering science and technology-based information to meet the needs identified by our communities and stakeholders. In 2015, the EHSRC COEC conducted a needs assessment about rural life exposures in Iowa and identified the following issues of concern: water quality, concentrated animal feeding operations (CAFOs), land use, food safety, indoor radon, toxic metals, and healthy homes. The EHSRC and COEC have conducted extensive and significant research and community engagement on many of these issues and will continue to do so going forward.

Aim 1)  Engage with our stakeholders (rural Midwestern communities, policymakers and public health professionals) to identify their research and educational needs and ensure respon-siveness of the COEC and Center scientists to these needs by facilitating partnerships.

Aim 2)  Translate and disseminate environmental health research results from our Center and others into knowledge for our community members, policymakers and public health professionals.

Aim 3)  Provide training and technical assistance to Center scientists on the importance of and methods for community outreach and engagement.

Aim 4)  Advance the state of environmental health outreach and engagement in rural communities through dissemination of successful EHSRC models and strategies.


COEC Leadership

Core Leader:  Brandi Janssen, PhD
Core Members:  Peter S. Thorne, PhD, Edith Parker, PhD
Coordinator:  Jackie Curnick, MDP

Over the course of its 26-year history, the EHSRC at the University of Iowa has provided education and outreach to the general public across a 16-state region to translate the research findings of the Center. Recent activity highlights include:

Frac Sand Mining: 

  1. a supplemental project to the EHSRC funded in 2013 to conduct air sampling research and community engagement around silica sand mining operations in Northeastern Iowa, Wisconsin, and Minnesota. The COEC continues to receive requests for information around health impacts of sand mining from local municipalities in Iowa, Wisconsin and Minnesota. Two counties have passed policy ordinances outlining where sand mining can take place and have attributed the COEC and Center’s help in translating scientific information on potential health risks as helpful in crafting the ordinance.
  2. Resource(s) Type
    Exposure Assessment and Outreach to Engage the Public on Health Risks from Frac Sand Mining Project Description
    Trempeleau County Public Forum - a Presentation on Frack Sand Mining Research Video Presentation
    Allamakee County Ordinance on Frac Sand Mining County Ordinance

Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations:

  1. sponsorship of four conferences and workshops that produced important state-of-the-art consensus documents that have been used by state legislatures, state environmental regulators and the U.S. EPA as a tool for pursuing official guidelines and enforcement actions
  2. expert testimony provided by EHSRC researchers at Iowa legislative committee meetings and the Iowa Environmental Protection Committee
  3. participation as experts in hearings held throughout the State after passage of Senate File 2293, a bill which specifically included air pollutants as regulated substances for concentrated animal production permit holders.
  4. Resource(s) Type
    Timeline of EHSRC's history with CAFO research, education, and community engagement. Fact Sheet
    The Farm Bill: Implications for Public Health Fact Sheet
    CAFO Air Quality Study, ISU/UI Study Group 2002 Publication
    Environmental Health Impacts of Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations: Anticipating Hazards - Searching for Solutions (2007) Publication Series


  1. a pilot project funded by the Center for the Health Effects of Environmental Contamination to deliver information about the health effects of radon to the parents of newborn babies in Iowa
  2. educational talks to community groups and agencies
  3. expert testimony for the Iowa General Assembly, EPA, and WHO
  4. development of an educational video for physicians
  5. Resource(s) Type
    Radon Information for Parents Tri-fold brochure
    Radon Information for Parents - Spanish version Tri-fold brochure
    Home Radon Testing - Dr. Charles Lynch Video
    Breathing Easier: An Informational Radon Video for Physicians Video

Natural Disasters:

  1. Flood of 2008:  Fact Sheets prepared jointly by the COECs from U.I., UTMB, and Wayne State for previous flood disasters were “on the shelf” and ready to distribute. These EHSRC Fact Sheets were shared with public health authorities in Brisbane, Australia in their flood of December 2010.
  2. COEC staff and Center researchers also created a video on mold hazards which was widely distributed through the media and also posted on YouTube.
  3. outreach to the University and to the health departments of Linn and Johnson Counties at the time air and surface samples were being collected and analyzed for chemical and biological contaminants
  4. worked with the Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS) to integrate public health resources into their interactive website.
  5. Resource(s) Type
    Mold Hazards in Flooded Buildings Video - Educational
    The Iowa Flood Information System (IFIS) and Public Health: An Integrative Project of the EHSRC Powerpoint with links
    Mold Fact Sheet Fact Sheet
    Booklet: " Flood Safety for Responders" Booklet

Environmental Health Workshops for Midwest State Legislators:

  1. Five educational workshops for state legislators were held in Iowa, Illinois and Minnesota in partnership with the National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) and the American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest. Environmental health topics addressed in these meetings included: CAFOs, Radon, PCBs, Healthy Buildings, Climate Change, the Farm Bill 2012, Hydraulic Fracturing, and Renewable Energy Production. 

Science Cafes: 

  1. a collaboration between the EHSRC, the Iowa Superfund Research Program, and the Institute for Clinical and Translational Science, to engage rural Iowa communities with ongoing science efforts at the University of Iowa.
  2. EHSRC Science Cafe topics have included climate change, PCBs in household paints, asthma and the environment, hazardous chemicals, silica sand mining in the Midwest, water purification, Sex Differences and the Brain, and the 2013 Iowa City Landfill Fire.

COEC Stakeholder Advisory Board (2016):

    Name Affiliation Area of Interests/Expertise
    Dean Thompson Winneshiek County IA Board of Supervisors Frack Sand Mining, CAFOs
    Paul Johnson Dickensen County IA Board of Supervisors CAFOs
    Jean Perri Poweshiek (CARES) Community Action to Restore Environmental Stewardship CAFOs
    Doug Farquhar National Conference of State Legislatures (NCSL) Legislator Workshops
    Angela Tin American Lung Association of the Upper Midwest Legislator Workshops
    Steve Falck Environmental Law and Policy Center Legislator Workshops, Water
    Stephanie Enloe Center for Rural Affairs Water Quality
    Susan Heathcote Iowa Environmental Council Water Quality
    Jeaneane Moody Iowa Public Health Association All