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Environmental Factor, September 2015

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Phil Brown receives environmental sociology award for outstanding work

By Sara Mishamandani

Headshot of Phil Brown

Brown will serve on the NIEHS National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council through 2018. As a council member, he helps advise the NIEHS director, assists in evaluating existing and new NIEHS programs, and participates in the implementation of the strategic plan. (Photo courtesy of Phil Brown)

Phil Brown, Ph.D., an NIEHS grantee and member of the NIEHS Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council, is the 2015 recipient of the American Sociological Association Environment and Technology Section Practice and Outreach Award. It is given in recognition of outstanding contributions to furthering environmental causes in society. Brown received the prestigious award Aug. 23 at the association’s annual meeting in Chicago.

Brown, who is the University Distinguished Professor of Sociology and Health Sciences at Northeastern University, has a long history of community-engaged participatory research. Working at the forefront of environmental health and justice research for the past 25 years, he has fostered productive collaborations with community groups, governmental organizations, and a wide range of academic researchers, to reduce exposures and improve public health.

Strengthening SRP community partnerships

Since 2009, Brown has directed Community Engagement Cores at NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) centers — first at Brown University, and now at Northeastern. Brown currently directs the Northeastern Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute and co-leads the SRP center’s Community Engagement Core and Research Translation Core.

Through the Puerto Rico Testsite for Exploring Contamination Threats (PROTECT) SRP center, Northeastern and partnering institutions study the effects of environmental contaminants on preterm birth in Puerto Rico. Brown works with the center to report data back to post-partum and expectant mothers involved in the PROTECT study and explain the findings. He is one of the pioneers of the report-back process, developed in a decadelong partnership with Silent Spring Institute, to empower individuals and improve communication between researchers and communities.

Along with Silent Spring, Brown co-directs a new NIEHS-funded program, the Transdisciplinary Training at the Intersection of Environmental Health and Social Science, to train graduate students and postdoctoral fellows in the kind of collaborative work he does.

“Dr. Brown provides invaluable guidance to the education and engagement work at community clinics across Puerto Rico,” said Akram Alshawabkeh, Ph.D., Northeastern SRP center director. “These efforts have marshalled public and private resources to eliminate the disparity in preterm birth and promote access to health promotion and early intervention services for families with preterm babies.”

A key ally

At the Brown University SRP center, Brown worked to better understand and clean up environmental contamination, promote efforts to inform community members and students of environmental justice issues, and help build a local environmental justice and environmental health network. He was also instrumental in establishing the Environmental Justice League of Rhode Island.

“Phil has been a key ally for our work,” said Sylvia Broude, executive director of the Community Action Works. “From serving on our advisory board, to being a trainer for our staff on the history of the toxics movement and on environmental justice, Phil’s commitment to environmental justice and toxics organizing is unmatched, and we are grateful for his support of our work. I can’t imagine a more worthy choice for this award.”

(Sara Mishamandani is a research and communication specialist for MDB Inc., a contractor for the NIEHS Division of Extramural Research and Training.)

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