We implemented a concurrent triangulation mixed-methods evaluation of an air pollution data report-back to study participants in Chelsea, Massachusetts. We aimed to determine whether the report-back was effective in the following three ways: engagement, understandability, and actionability for the participants. We also evaluated participants’ valuation of the report-back information and process. The evaluation involved both qualitative components, such as ethnographic observation, and quantitative components, such as closed-ended questionnaires and demographic data. The participants who engaged in the report-back process were significantly different from those who did not engage both in terms of their demographics, and in their indoor air pollutant concentrations. Participant understanding generally corresponded with the intended meaning of the research team, suggesting successful data communication. Additionally, many of the participants reported that they were inspired to take action in order to reduce their indoor air pollutant exposure as a result of the report-back process and information provided. These results identify areas of improvement for engagement, particularly regarding populations that may have higher exposures. This work outlines a framework with which to contextualize and evaluate the success of engagement with report-back efforts. Such evaluations can allow research teams to assess whether they are providing information that is equitably useful and actionable for all participants.
In this manuscript, we describe the process of establishing partnerships for community-based environmental exposure research, the tools and methods implemented for data report-back to community members, and the results of evaluations of these efforts. Data discovery and report-back materials developed by Statistics for Action (SFA) were employed as the framework to communicate the environmental data to community members and workshops. These data communication and research translation efforts are described in detail and evaluated for effectiveness based on feedback provided from community members who attended the workshops. Overall, the methods were mostly effective for the intended data communication.
Qualitatively and quantitatively, we have demonstrated that airborne polychlorinated biphenyl (PCB) concentrations in the air surrounding New Bedford Harbor (NBH) are caused by its water PCB emissions. We measured airborne PCBs at 18 homes and businesses near NBH in 2015, with values ranging from 0.4 to 38 ng m–3, with a very strong Aroclor 1242/1016 signal that is most pronounced closest to the harbor and reproducible over three sampling rounds. Using U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) water PCB data from 2015 and local meteorology, we predicted gas-phase fluxes of PCBs from 160 to 1200 μg m–2 day–1. Fluxes were used as emissions for AERMOD, a widely applied U.S. EPA atmospheric dispersion model, to predict airborne PCB concentrations. The AERMOD predictions were within a factor of 2 of the field measurements. PCB emission from NBH (110 kg year–1, average 2015) is the largest reported source of airborne PCBs from natural waters in North America, and the source of high ambient air PCB concentrations in locations close to NBH. It is likely that NBH has been an important source of airborne PCBs since it was contaminated with Aroclors more than 60 years ago.