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stories from the Public Lab community
The Board of Directors of the Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (Public Lab) is very excited to announce its new Executive Director, Jordan Macha. She began her position in this role on April 19, and is succeeding Public Lab co-founder and founding Executive Director Shannon Dosemagen, who departed in 2020.
Macha brings deep experience in community building and leadership in the environmental justice field to Public Lab. In her recent position as Executive Director of Bayou City Waterkeeper, Macha helmed efforts with community partners on wetlands protection and clean water advocacy. As a founding member of the Coalition for Environment, Equity, and Resilience, her team partnered with community leaders and diverse organizations focusing on Hurricane Harvey and flood recovery in the Greater Houston area, encouraging the region to adopt equitable resiliency models to holistically serve its residents. Through her previous work with Healthy Gulf and the Sierra Club, Macha advanced coastal restoration and clean energy priorities across the Gulf region. She received her Master's of Public Administration with an emphasis on Coastal & Urban Water Management and Policy from Texas State University.
"I am honored to have the opportunity to lead the community and staff of Public Lab," says Jordan Macha. "Building on the tremendous momentum of the last eleven years, Public Lab is well-equipped to develop its vision to advance community science and empower knowledge producers to make positive change. I'm excited to join the incredible team of staff, volunteer leaders, and diverse community partners working to make impactful environmental change worldwide."
"The Public Lab Board of Directors is proud to welcome Jordan Macha to this leadership role at such a crucial moment for community advocacy to advance environmental justice," says Board of Directors chairperson Janet Haven. "Her career is proof of an unwavering support for the protection and empowerment of communities, and the board looks forward to Jordan's experience, passion, and leadership shaping the future of our work together."
Macha was influential in the Resilient Houston Plan in incorporating natural infrastructure and equitable nature-centered solutions into its Living with Water strategy, working to future-proof the region's water systems by improving its wastewater facilities and championing policies to protect wetlands and floodplains. She currently serves as the Harris County representative for the H-GAC Natural Resources Advisory Committee, and the environmental representative for the Texas Water Development Board's Region 3 Flood Planning Group. Partnering with Harris County, Jordan and her partners are working with county leadership to embrace an equity-centric and holistic approach to flooding, furthering the advancement of comprehensive, intersectional projects that put people over profits and embrace nature-based solutions.
Shannon Dosemagen notes of the announcement, "I'm thrilled to welcome Jordan to Public Lab. I believe she is the right person to lead the organization into its second decade, building on our legacy of supporting communities in using science and open technology to support their environmental goals."
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As a community science organization that purposefully democratizes science, Public Lab is uniquely positioned to support youth to become effective environmental scientists, stewards, and advocates. Public Lab defines community science as community-led scientific exploration and investigation to address community-defined questions, allowing for engagement in the entirety of the scientific process. Unlike traditional citizen science, Public Lab’s approach emphasizes local and traditional knowledge, community ownership of research, and working together in scalable networks to encourage collaborative learning and civic engagement. Intrinsic to this democratization is the necessary situating of environmental topics in their cultural and political contexts, accentuating the importance of realistic, relevant, and actionable study.
Community science translates well into an educational context because young people are given a voice, platform, and level of consideration often absent in other aspects of their lives. Classroom community science projects are youth-led with an approach that emphasizes participant and community ownership of research, from question identification through analysis, and working together to encourage collaborative learning and civic engagement. After identifying their interests, students conduct research as they join the efforts of people and organizations already working on these issues and take the lead in aspects of study design, data collection, and analysis. The data collected from these student-designed projects supports community action and civic engagement.
Participating in community science projects benefits science learning by providing for many different kinds of roles within scientific activity, motivating underserved learners to participate in science, and engaging participants with scientific data in meaningful ways. In particular, opportunities to contribute to and lead work in a scientific or civic sphere, to take up the role of expert in relation to issues of community concern or opportunity, and to tailor one’s role within collective work to fit prior experiences, make community science a context for building a meaningful connection between students and science.
An educator who wanted to integrate community science principles into their practice might:
The chart below compares student activities and engagement throughout the scientific process when following community science principles versus traditional science education practices.
Public Lab’s online community and collection of research can be a resource for your classroom, connecting students to community members geographically or by project content. Public Lab’s website can be used as an online lab notebook for students to share their work as well as give and receive feedback.
This is part of a series for #EEWeek2021. To read more environmental education content, be sure to follow the Education tag.
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March 25, 2021
Public Laboratory for Open Technology and Science (Public Lab) condemns the inappropriate and dangerous behavior of Richard Stallman and his unqualified reinstatement to the Free Software Foundation (FSF) Board of Directors. Public Lab supports the statement written by Software Freedom Conservancy in September 2019.
As of Monday, 22 March 2021, the Free Software Foundation has reinstated Richard Stallman to the FSF Board of Directors. In light of Stallman's reinstatement, Public Lab renounces the award the organization received from the FSF in 2017.
While Public Lab has never received funding from FSF, as long as FSF allows Stallman to hold a leadership position within the foundation, Public Lab cannot in good conscience hold an award or foster a relationship with a foundation that condones Stallman's behavior.
Public Lab is deeply disappointed that FSF has not taken action regarding Stallman's inappropriate behavior. We are seriously concerned for the safety of our shared community, as Stallman's reinstatement signals that sexual harassment and sexual violence against women is tolerated by FSF. Their actions of reinstating Stallman's leadership may result in more women being exposed to this abhorrent behavior.
Public Lab calls on FSF to revoke their reinstatement of Stallman to their Board of Directors immediately. We encourage FSF to begin the process of rebuilding their trust within the free software community, in particular with the women and other individuals who look to FSF for integrity, safety, and leadership in this space.
To support this effort, you can join the collective call to action by signing onto this open letter calling for Stallman's removal from all leadership positions.
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In an interview on January 26, 2021 for Public Lab, Gustavo Aguirre Jr. shared his experience taking action against the major industries situated within California’s Kern, Tulare, and Kings Counties. Gustavo is the Kern County Director of Central California Environmental Justice Network (CCEJN). In 2001, CCEJN founders recognized that their target communities were located throughout the San Joaquin Valley, and so the network expanded to work in partnership with groups from across the region. CCEJN was established in 1999 and is an environmental justice non-profit organization whose “mission is to empower our communities and secure our children’s future by eliminating negative environmental impacts in low income and communities of color in the Central Valley.” Since their beginning, CCEJN has fostered strong working relationships with grassroots groups, regulatory agencies, and academic institutions.
Growing up Gustavo shared he was surrounded by his parents and their friends who were United Farm Workers (UFW) labor organizers going back to the 1970s. This community environment exposed him to political advocacy early in his youth and deeply instilled his commitment to community health. In his interview, Gustavo described, “My father worked for UFW...he had an organizing lifestyle: picket lining, workshops with other advocates, backyard barbeques.” Naturally, Gustavo learned that building healthy communities requires frequent communication, collaborative dialogues, and efforts that are intentionally intergenerational.
Over the years, Gustavo and his CCEJN colleagues have developed effective community-centered programs, and he admitted that while reaching residents can be tough especially during COVID-19, in a typical year they are able to get people to keep coming back to their workshops. He described the effectiveness of framing any given environmental health issue around the family, and building opportunities for local youth to not only learn but apply their knowledge through hands-on activities and local advocacy channels. Gustavo has been integral to the development of CCEJN’s environmental reporting and environmental monitoring efforts.
When I asked him to reflect on his own pathway into community science, Gustavo described his earlier years learning alongside Jessica Hendricks and Denny Larson of Global Community Monitor (GCM) in 2014. Gustavo’s time with CGM allowed him to learn how to use the Bucket air monitoring tool, receive direct mentorship, and support collaborative air quality monitoring efforts. “We put together a document on QAQC [quality assurance and quality control] protocols, compared varying methodologies around community air sampling…” and “...there’s a need for these [community air sampling] methods to be respected.” In his year with GCM he learned how do-it-yourself monitoring tools, mostly meant to capture data about place and local informational events, had the potential to create bigger projects -- and bring accountability to regulatory agencies. Once at CCEJN, where Gustavo has proudly been for 7 years, he was encouraged to carry on his community science and organizing work. “The Bucket has served to capture the narratives of the [San Joaquin Valley] communities and support the residents here to see and question what’s going on around them.” He continues to introduce local youth to the power and tools of community-led science and inquiry.
When I asked Gustavo about the key elements of CCEJN’s programming, he emphasized that they spend significant time organizing communities and neighbors by facilitating culturally-grounded education workshops and offering environmental justice literacy curriculum. These workshops help explain environmental science and policy jargon, offer translation, and break down what regulatory agencies are. Gustavo emphasized that their work is to enable residents to see the entire web of contact among regulators and communities, and encourage them to use their community-based reporting platform. This reporting platform is based at CCEJN with emphasis on reporting environmental concerns and observations. “We give them a green card with the phone number and share how to use the website.”
In CCEJN’s earlier years, the community was quick to start bringing their concerns. They reported the local oil rig/tanks in their neighborhoods, and CCEJN asked them, “What can you tell us about this?” This initially got them interested in noticing odor, smog, and when the oil rigs were moving. As more visual scenes were reported, nothing would happen. “Then we’d go out and collect Bucket samples.” With these community air quality samples, CCEJN would identify an academic institution and research team in their partnership network to lend support. “With the samples in a University of Washington report, all of it together, gave our efforts a whole different level of energy.” Through their programs, CCEJN supports community members to see how they can use data: understanding how and what data is, who controls it, and how they can create their own with accessible instruments and tools – then create their own narratives with it.
Gustavo mentions that one of CCEJN’s successes is, “We meet the community members and leaders that really have that spark. Have them keep coming back. We build those relationships. It’s all long term. We can take it to the next level, we just have to keep at it. You may not get to see the benefits right upfront, though after some time the trends do appear.” To learn more about CCEJN’s programs, visit https://ccejn.org/category/projects/.
This interview is part of Public Lab’s efforts to update information about the Bucket air monitoring tool and share stories from community groups currently using it all over the world. To subscribe to updates, visit: https://publiclab.org/notes/Shannon/05-14-2020/the-bucket-updating-and-open-sourcing-a-community-air-monitoring-tool
Interested in starting your own Bucket Bridgade? Learn more here: https://publiclab.org/notes/kgradow1/06-09-2020/how-to-set-up-a-bucket-brigade
Build your own Bucket monitoring tool, we have the parts available in our store through the Public Lab Kits Initiative: https://store.publiclab.org/
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Cherokee Concerned Citizens has been an active community group fighting the ongoing industrial pollution that affects their community since 2014 (read an earlier post on our community here). The neighborhood in Pascagoula Mississippi is surrounded by several facilities (the Bayou Casotte Industrial Park), including Chevron which has been active for over 50 years, VT Halter Marine, LNG, BP Enterprise Gas Processing, and First Chemical. After years of individual complaints to the Mississippi Department of Environmental Quality, residents came together in 2013 to address their common issues relating to the sickening industrial odors and toxic particulate matter that they believed explained their health issues, including rashes, respiratory issues, asthma, chronic colds and sinus problems, burning eyes, nose, and throats, tingling and numbness, sleep disorders, memory problems, digestive issues, cancers, and more.
Over the years, the group has been documenting pollutants such as benzene, sulfuric acid, sulfur, particulate matter, manganese, and particulate matter. They have documented sandblasting overspray, industrial noise pollution, managed their own odor logs, and conducted health surveys. For years they’ve monitored, reported, and documented, to no avail. They’ve been kept out of federal processes for contributing through an EPA Community Advisory Committee, had their data ignored by their state Department of Environmental Quality, and waited 6 years for expired permits to come up for renewal so they can register comments on them, but none, save one, have. In fact, one company, Mississippi Phosphates, responsible for creating a superfund site, operated under and expired permit for 10 years before they went bankrupt, burdening the community with “700 million gallons of acidic, nutrient-rich wastewater” costing the federal government more than $34 million dollars as of 2019.
After being ignored for years by EPA and MDEQ, Cherokee Concerned Citizens (CCC) got in touch with the Agency for Toxics Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) who agreed to do an investigation into the existing data. However, ATSDR won’t do any testing themselves so CCC has been gathering some more data to share. In Spring 2020, CCC reached out to Public Lab to borrow a Hanby soil testing kit, and started testing. They took photos and tests, and working with a lab in Houston, were able to get some analysis and results. Of the tests conducted, Hanby said there’s a higher level of petroleum pollution in the samples than what you would want in a residential area, 5x the level of "healthy" soils for oil and gas related contamination. They said it’s concerning and CCC should get it tested with the EPA. ATSDR is going to take this data, along with all the other data and submit a report to the EPA with recommendations to the EPA on how they should handle the contamination.
The photo is from soil testing in a neighborhood in Pascagoula, Mississippi. It shows 500ppm of oil related contamination.
Here are several questions we’re looking for insight on. Please click the links to help answer or pass along more information! Or comment on this post. Thanks so much!
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The research area review we began last month on microplastics is wrapping up!
With the review, we aimed to refresh Public Lab content with resources that would help anyone find ways to monitor microplastics pollution in their community. We already had several existing comprehensive posts on tools and methods to research microplastics (many authored by @maxliboiron), so we mainly turned to sources beyond Public Lab to see what other materials might help our community.
By far, the most fruitful parts of the review process were the conversations. An international crew of people shared their time, perspectives, and knowledge of microplastics research with us, and they deserve a hearty thank you for their contributions:
In these conversations, people shared their tips, tools, and resources for community scientists interested in microplastics, related stories and experiences, gave insight into what's currently developing in microplastics research and policy, and unearthed questions that might direct where we can go next on this topic.
We also had an event! We wrapped up the research area review with a virtual, open call where we connected with each other to tell stories, uncover more questions, and give highlights of the review. Check out the summary notes here and a recording of the event here.
Stay tuned for information about our next research area review and how to get involved! We'll be looking for input on what topics to review next soon. And please comment below if you have any ideas, questions, or feedback!
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