From Gita Persad’s point of view, the country’s large coastal cities face environmental threats from both the air and the sea.

The air is belched, with toxic fumes from factories, petrochemical plants, sewage treatment plants and other industrial enterprises linked to a range of diseases—from asthma to cancer—in the nation’s urban centers.

On the maritime side, the risk of debilitating floods increases due to climate change, rising sea levels and the creeping threat of hurricanes and other weather events becoming more frequent and more intense.

“You have a strange combination of these different factors,” he said Persad, climatologist at the University of Texas at Austin. “There is flooding, air quality, industry, and communities. There are hurricanes, there are heat waves, there are everything you can think of.’

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Persad is part of a team of researchers studying this merger as part of a new multi-year study funded by A $66 million grant from the US Department of Energy that scientists hope to one day help cities mitigate the many effects of climate change.

In addition to Persad and her co-researchers, the Ministry of Energy uses the same grant funds to create two other so-called City integrated field laboratories— one in Chicago and the other in Baltimore — to “communicate equitable climate and energy solutions that can strengthen the resilience of communities in urban landscapes.”

Persad and her colleagues will conduct their research in two cities near the Gulf Coast in Texas – Beaumont and Port Arthur. Port Arthur, a city of about 55,000 that borders Sabine Lake, is home to a major oil refinery and has been hit by a series of major storms since the turn of the century, including Hurricane Rita (2005), ” Ike” (2008) and “Harvey”. (2017). Beaumont, which has twice the population of its neighbor and is about 20 miles further inland, has been home to a range of chemical and oil producers over the years, including ExxonMobil, Goodyear and DuPont.

By studying the effects of air pollution and the increased risk of flooding in these communities, the Texas team hopes to bring together two disciplines that are rarely associated with each other – one that includes the study of natural hazards, the other that focuses on issues of environmental justice.

“These two worlds — the natural hazard world of hurricanes and floods and the environmental justice world of industrial impacts — have only recently begun to really blend,” he said. Michelle Annette Meyer, director of the Center for Risk Reduction and Recovery at Texas A&M University, who is also involved in the study. “We’re excited, foolishly, to look at developing a very specific way to show which communities are most affected by both of these hazards combined.”

Meyer described the effort as spanning several disciplines and bringing together hydrologic engineers, air pollution experts, chemists, sociologists, public relations specialists, civil engineers and others.

“We have several urban planners and several landscape architects on our team who understand how toxins move through floodwaters and can assess which parts of society are potentially more exposed to toxic floodwaters,” Meyer said. “From this we can see which communities already have health problems. There may be areas with high rates of asthma and they need or need to have some mitigation measures first so that we can deal with climate adaptation on an equitable basis.”

Meyer said the team’s goal is that its findings can be used to help other communities develop mitigation strategies to deal with the effects of poor air quality and increased flood threats.

“The population of Port Arthur is different than the population of, say, St. Louis, Missouri, or somewhere in California that’s on the coast, or Louisiana, or New York,” Meyer said, adding that she nonetheless hopes that these communities can build on the team’s work “and really find the areas where they need to target mitigation and climate adaptation.”

Other institutions participating in the Texas study include Lamar University, Oak Ridge National Laboratory and Prairie View A&M University. Meyer said that in addition to the scientists working on the project, members of the local community will also be instrumental in providing first-person accounts of the challenges they have faced in the form of adverse health effects from air pollution and in recovering from the effects. major storms.

“So often they’re not included,” Meyer said, referring to the lack of community involvement in similar studies. “That’s why it’s important to have their voice. But it’s also important for science because we’re using national-level indicators, but that may not be entirely accurate. So we really need a local perspective to know what mistakes we’re making with the data we have and what data we might need to collect.”

Paolo Pasalacquaa water resources engineer at the University of Texas at Austin who is the study’s lead researcher, said community input will be critical as researchers assemble models and create predictions of the effects of air pollution and flooding.

“We will be testing many possible solutions,” Pasalakwa said. “Good infrastructure and so on, to understand how we can mitigate the effects of flooding and pollution and what the impact of federal intervention is, how it feeds back into the environment.”

Passalacqua said the project is expected to take about five years and will involve nearly three dozen researchers.

For her part, Persad said one of the most gratifying components of the project is that the researchers intend to make all the data collected during the project publicly available as a dataset for community members. Such information may be particularly valuable to communities of color and low-income residents who typically bears a disproportionate burden of environmental damage— as they try to justify policy change and other interventions by official institutions.

“It’s a really big boon for environmental justice and equity,” Persad said. “Not everywhere has the resources like New York or Los Angeles to get that information or pay consultants to get that information.”

As such, the project could be a source of civic empowerment for Beaumont and Port Arthur, according to the researchers.

“They can make sure that certain infrastructure is built to reduce climate vulnerability,” Persad said of the communities involved in the project. “But getting access to all those resources requires that the community be able to go to the federal government and say, ‘Look, here’s our climate vulnerability. Here we have data that shows the vulnerability that climate change will create for us.” So part of what we’re trying to do with this project is give them the data and the ammunition to actually access those resources.”