Abby Kinchy is a sociologist whose research and teaching focus on environmental challenges and the relationship between science and democracy. She lives in Troy, NY, where she is a professor in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. Kinchy has written two books that explore how ordinary people use “citizen science” to examine environmental problems and advocate for solutions. Science by the People: Participation, Power, and the Politics of Environmental Knowledge, co-authored with Aya Kimura, compares case studies in the United States, Japan, Mexico, and other parts of the world, where citizen scientists have investigated the impacts of shale oil and gas, nuclear power, and genetically engineered crops. Seeds, Science, and Struggle: The Global Politics of Transgenic Crops focuses on farmers and activists in Mexico and Canada who organized in defense of traditional seed-saving practices and alternatives to industrialized agriculture. Kinchy also led the Watershed Knowledge Mapping Project, a study of volunteer watershed monitoring projects in Pennsylvania and New York, where concerned citizens aimed to use water quality data to protect their streams from the impact of natural gas development. More information about Abby Kinchy can be found at https://abbykinchy.weebly.com.
Sociologist Sebastian Ureta, an associate professor at Universidad Alberto Hurtado in Santiago, Chile, has been studying the problem of soil contamination resulting from mining in Chile since 2013 (see Ureta 2016, 2018), and collaborated with Kinchy in developing the proposed project. He is working with environmental organizations and engineers to develop a sequence of community meetings, participatory soil contamination assessment exercises, and workshops (“Nuestros Suelos/Our Soil”), to assess the risks of exposure to soil contaminants and evaluate the possibilities for political and collective action surrounding Chile’s mining industry. These will take place throughout 2019. The plans for these sessions will be the first iteration of the Community Soil Study Toolkit, discussed later in the proposal. Ureta’s partners include a local NGO called Suelo Sustentable (Sustainable Soil), as well as Millennium Research Network on Energy and Society. Established in 2014 by people with technical expertise on soil science and toxicology, Suelo Sustentable is the first and only Chilean NGO dealing with the issue of devising sustainable ways to live with Chilean soils, especially the ones affected by human activity. Since its start, the work of Suelo Sustentable has been focused on the dual objective of 1) carrying out basic research dealing with soil pollution issues, especially focusing on remediation efforts and 2) making the issue of soil pollution a matter of social concern and action, through both public education efforts and pressing stakeholders and authorities into action. This team is currently (as of January 2019) working on the first step of the project, with financing from by Iniciativa Cientifica Milenio (PME 2018) and Fondo Nacional de Desarrollo Científico y Tecnológico, FONDECYT (project 1170153).
Mónica Ramírez-Andreotta has extensive experience with conducting bilingual (English and Spanish) community-based soil research, and in this project will focus on developing and validating field kits for testing soil for lead and arsenic. Her related efforts include initiatives funded by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences and NSF. Gardenroots (https://gardenroots.arizona.edu) partners with community members to measure potential contaminants in gardens neighboring mining sites. Community members are trained to collect samples of plants, soil, and water, which are then tested in a laboratory. Gardenroots aims to communicate the results of their studies to all participating families and individuals, and more broadly to influence environmental decision making. Project Harvest (https://projectharvest.arizona.edu/) aims to monitor and evaluate the use of harvested rainwater at homes and community gardens in selected urban and rural communities. Project Harvest trains citizen scientists who work alongside a team of promotoras (community health workers) and University of Arizona (UA) scientists to determine potential microbial, organic and inorganic contaminants in harvested rainwater as well as soil and fresh produce grown in home, school, and/or community gardens irrigated by harvested rainwater. The results inform the broader community and recommendations for safe harvested rainwater use in gardens. Project Harvest is implementing a two-prong environmental monitoring approach that includes a low cost, on-site, tool providing a semi-rapid in-home result and a traditional sample collection protocol with measurements conducted in laboratories.
Salvatore Engel-Di Mauro
Salvatore Engel-Di Mauro is Professor at the Geography Department of SUNY New Paltz. He teaches soils, physical geography, people-environments geography, gender and environment, and geographies of socialism. Current studies and publications mainly address critical physical geography; ideologies about soils; soil degradation (especially acidification); trace element contamination processes in urban community gardens; urban agriculture; materialist dialectics; and socialism. Author of Ecology, Soils, and the Left, he is chief editor of the journal Capitalism Nature Socialism. He will assist the research team in creating a Community Soil Study Toolkit and carrying out a series of soil workshops with participants in Troy, NY. With support from the SUNY Research Foundation, he carried out a pilot study in 33 urban community gardens in New York City, Syracuse, and Troy, to develop and implement a community-oriented soil monitoring protocol for urban gardeners. The protocol was subsequently translated into Italian and tried out successfully in several urban community gardens in Rome, Italy, through a Fulbright-funded project aimed at identifying contamination pathways for arsenic and lead. He is currently involved in three other complementary research projects: (1) a collaborative study of trace element and organic pollutant contamination in urban community gardens in Brooklyn (NY) and Seattle (WA); (2) a study sponsored by the Corvinus Institute for Advanced Studies on the relationship between carework and level of urban community garden involvement in Budapest; and (3) an NSF-funded investigation of the role of atmospheric deposition in trace element contamination in urban community gardens in Brooklyn.
Kathy High, a professor of Arts at Rensselaer and an interdisciplinary artist working with technology, art and science, will work with the research team to create media and tangible artifacts to facilitate new kinds of interactions with and reflections about soil. High regularly collaborates with scientists, and her work considers living systems and the social, political and ethical dilemmas of biotechnology and surrounding industries. High is the Coordinator of NATURE Lab (North Troy Art, Technology and Urban Research in Ecology), a volunteer-run project founded in 2013, which aims to connect artists, scientists, and neighborhood residents around urban ecological issues and environmental justice. NATURE Lab will partner with the research team in several aspects of the proposed project, including hosting the community workshops and meetings, facilitating outreach, and creating documentation of the soil study process. NATURE Lab work with the Collard City Community Garden, where urban gardeners have attempted a variety of strategies to minimize exposure to the lead present in the soil. NATURE Lab has secured funding from numerous state, federal agencies as well as foundations. Notably, the New York Department of Environmental Conservation has provided funding to equip a new community biology laboratory (biosafety level 1) for the NATURE Lab Center, and New York State Council on the Arts Economic Development grants have been secured to teach environmental stewardship to youth participating in the Uptown Summer program. Currently, design plans are being developed by Troy Architecture Project (TAP) for the building of the new NATURE Lab Environmental Education Center. The new construction of the “green” building will be completed by Spring 2020, in time for this project.
Dan Walls is a postdoctoral researcher in the Department of Science and Technology Studies at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. His graduate studies and a prior postdoctoral position focused on fluid mechanics and transport phenomena, most recently in the context of the remediation of crude oils spilled into aquatic environments. His prior research has required him to both operate specialized laboratory equipment as well as construct experimental apparatuses for making scientific measurements. Through this project, he will utilize skills from his previous training as well as contribute to the broader socio-technical analysis of heavy metal contamination of soil.