Heinz Endowments Funds Center for Healthy Environments and Communities at GSPH

Issue Date: 
September 29, 2008


                                            Conrad D. Volz

In an effort to expand environmental public health efforts in Pitt’s Graduate School of Public Health (GSPH), the Heinz Endowments has awarded $200,000 to the school’s Center for Healthy Environments and Communities (CHEC). The grant will help support the Allegheny River Stewardship Project―a community-based environmental health project exploring water contamination in the Allegheny River, one of CHEC’s flagship programs.

Founded with initial funding by the Heinz Endowments in 2004, CHEC works to conduct research on the relationship between the ecosystem and human health and to serve as a resource for data, educational materials, and general information on conservation and healthy and sustainable living.

The renewed funding will allow CHEC to expand the geographical scope of the Allegheny River Stewardship Project into other areas in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and West Virginia, and to map water pollution concentrations to better understand health risks from environmental contamination.

“One of the things we strive to do within the center is to help individuals and communities identify the most important environmental problems they face and empower them to develop their own action plans for healthy living,” said Conrad D. Volz, director of CHEC and an assistant professor in GSPH’s Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. “We are extremely grateful to the Heinz Endowments for its continued and sustaining support of this mission.”

According to Volz, CHEC employs a participatory research model based on an equal partnership between traditionally trained experts and local residents. “We believe that it is vital to involve community members in research projects so that they have a stake in the health and well-being of their own communities,” said Volz.

In addition to the Allegheny River Stewardship Project, other CHEC initiatives include identifying environmental risk factors for high-preterm delivery rates, low birth-weight rates, and high asthma rates in the Braddock-Rankin area of Pittsburgh; working with the Pittsburgh Public Schools to improve the health and nutrition of students; and conducting training with physicians on environmental health issues.

Other CHEC faculty members include Robbie Ali and Ravi Sharma, both assistant professors in Pitt’s Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences, and Charles Christian, CHEC manager. For more information on CHEC, visit www.chec.pitt.edu.

One of the largest and most innovative independent philanthropic foundations in the country, the Heinz Endowments awarded more than $84 million in grants in 2007.