Houston Awarded EPA Grant Program Will Focus on Creative Public Health Campaign
The U.S. Environmental Agency (EPA) today announced that the City of Houston has been awarded a $200,000 grant as part of the State Environmental Justice Cooperative Agreement (SEJCA) to use for Environmental Justice initiatives.
The City will invest the grant in Houston Inspires/Houston Inspira, a citywide public health education campaign using innovative messaging, including cartoons, billboards, postcards, and door-hangars regarding the risks communities face from elevated levels of environmental pollutants.
The campaign will focus on Super Neighborhoods with greater than 90th percentile in PM2.5, benzene, and Cancer Risk Environmental Justice Screen Scores.
- Particulate Matter (PM) 2.5 emissions in Houston are strongly associated with concrete batch plants. Since 2014, Texas has led the nation in ready-mix concrete production, with around 1,700 permitted plants. These concrete batch plants dot the Houston map like confetti, often in "batches," and are clustered in working-class, minority neighborhoods that lack the political power to fight them. In South Houston, 18 concrete batch plants sit within a 4-mile radius.
- Benzene (C6H6) is an aromatic hydrocarbon that enters the atmosphere through crude oil production and gasoline emissions emitted from anthropogenic sources and is routinely found in Houston air. With the high volume of oil and gas activity in the area, the Houston Health Department regards benzene as the highest-risk pollutant for residents in the region.
"I thank EPA Administrator Michael S. Regan for awarding Houston a grant to educate people about clean air and COVID-19 creatively. We plan to engage people in diverse neighborhoods. Communicating through art will raise awareness of environmental risks while recognizing the role that art plays in equity and advocacy," said Mayor Sylvester Turner. "Houston continues to advance the priorities set out in the Resilient Houston strategy while putting communities and data at the forefront."
The campaign will work with community organizations, artists, and local students within the priority neighborhoods, including many in the City's Complete Communities, to amplify the messaging through community-based art and storytelling activities.Targeted communities include Kashmere Gardens, Acres Home, Near Northside, Second Ward, Magnolia Park, Third Ward, Gulfton, and Sunnyside, which are part of Houston's Complete Communities initiative focused on historically underinvested neighborhoods.
"We know how important it is to put funding to work in environmentally overburdened, economically underserved areas, and today we’re excited to let our communities know that thanks to the American Rescue Plan, help is here,” said Administrator Michael S. Regan. "EPA is drawing on its many years of experience working with communities and organizations that strive for environmental justice to ensure these funds will deliver real-world results for those who need it most.”
Houston Inspires/ Houston Inspira builds on the City's COVID-19 Health Equity Response Task Force's first public education campaign, Mask Up! Houston, as well as previous efforts to heighten community awareness that ultimately stopped a concrete batch plant in a single-family neighborhood across from a public park and community center.
Like previous efforts, Houston Inspires/ Houston Inspira will leverage and expand upon the strengths of Pulitzer prize-winning cartoonist Nick Anderson, a communications specialist in the Mayor's Office of Government Relations.
This is a novel, creative, and innovative approach to quickly disseminate information to Houstonians, clearly communicate risks in coordination with monitoring and research being conducted by the Houston Health Department, engage and support artists and storytellers from these neighborhoods to tell their stories, generate media attention to amplify the campaign further and ultimately increase opportunities to find creative and just solutions to a complicated set of challenges in Houston.
Houston Inspires/Houston Inspira is a collaborative effort among several City of Houston Departments, including the Mayor's Offices of Resilience, Complete Communities, Cultural Affairs, Governmental Affairs, and the Houston Health Department.