Meet Mimi Tran, Spring Intern for Gasp

Meet Mimi Tran, Spring Intern for Gasp

Meet Mimi Tran, Spring Intern for Gasp

​What is your major at UAB/BSC and why did you choose it? I’m a freshman Urban Environmental Studies major at Birmingham Southern College. As a kid, my favorite part of family vacations was (and still is!) visiting a city’s botanical gardens, local farmers markets, or urban parks. I am fascinated about ways of daily sustainable living from tiny houses to Earthships and eco-friendly city structures. Constructed as an interdisciplinary major, Urban Environmental Studies allows me to bridge the relationships between society and our natural environment.

What do you hope to do after you graduate? After graduation, I hope to pursue a career in public service. Whether that be through the government or nonprofit sector, I am most called towards advocacy work. Currently, I work with various civic organizations on social justices causes, aiming for a more inclusive and connected community. In the future, I hope to work more directly with Alabama’s state policies, particularly on environmental justice, women’s health care, and sex education. 

What is your dream job? While there are many careers I’d love to experience一like being a part of a botanical garden design team!一ultimately, I want to serve in public office, concentrating on community development, particularly through inclusion and green initiatives.

What do you hope to learn while interning with Gasp? While interning at GASP, I hope to grow closer to and more involved with the larger Birmingham community. In addition, I’m excited to learn more about community environmental initiatives, especially what social, political, and environmental methods we can apply to the environmental injustice prevalent in northern Birmingham communities. 

Why is our mission to reduce air pollution important to you? Birmingham’s air pollution is intertwined with political, social, and racial issues. A person’s access to life’s necessities such as the ability to breathe clean air is not a privilege for the powerful or wealthy, but a human right. As an Alabama native, a young woman and an Asian American, I understand the necessity to fight for a community that is conscious and inclusive of minority and marginalized groups. Through GASP’s mission, I believe we are not only working towards a healthy community, but a unified city. 

What is your favorite food? I eat anything and everything! But I’m always in the mood to eat curry! From different Indian curries to Thai, they always remind me of home. 

What are your hobbies? While I do consider my love of food adventures a hobby, I also love journaling, playing instruments, reading, and doing anything outdoors. From hiking to kayaking, I feel most at peace when I’m outside! 

Who or what are your influences? I grew up with a big family and since I was a kid, they have been my biggest supporters and sturdiest foundation. My parents who both immigrated to America for better life opportunities have endlessly encouraged me to pursue my passions and ambitions. 

What are some other fun facts about yourself?I play three instruments一piano, guitar, and ukulele! I love musical theatre! Some of my favorites include Waitress and Les Miserables.

 

Meet Matthew Odendahl, Spring Intern for Gasp

Meet Matthew Odendahl, Spring Intern for Gasp

Meet Matthew Odendahl, Spring Intern for Gasp


Matthew is serving as Gasp’s Communications and Marketing Spring Intern

What is your major at UAB/BSC and why did you choose it? I am pursuing a bachelor of science in public health, with a concentration in environmental health and a studio art minor.  I chose this degree as I wanted to have a positive impact on the world and as I kept studying and taking classes I realized that I had skills that could be beneficial for addressing community concerns and the environment.

What do you hope to do after you graduate? I hope to work with local organizations to help make Birmingham the city that I believe it could be.  

What is your dream job? My dream job would have to be a position where I am allowed to be creative while also being able to listen and help vulnerable communities. 

What do you hope to learn while interning with Gasp? I hope to learn how to not only help vulnerable communities and populations but also have a lasting positive impact on them as well.

Why is our mission to reduce air pollution important to you? Poor air quality affects everyone but really has an impact on communities located by industry.  People living in those areas have higher rates of asthma, lung cancer, etc and are economically trapped there due to systems of oppression.  This vicious cycle makes me feel ashamed of my home so I want to fix those issues.  

What is your favorite food? I would have to say my favorite food is some sort of sandwich, turkey, meatball doesn’t matter.  I enjoy efficient foods and what’s more efficient then a sandwich? It has everything you need in each bite.  Perfection. 

What are your hobbies? I am an artist so I spend a lot of my free time illustrating, painting, anything where I can create and explore my mind.

Who or what are your influences? I have many influences in my life.  I am moved by artists both music and visual who use their experience to create.  I am inspired by my mentors and professors that have instilled in me information that can be utilized to make the world better.  I am inspired by my peers that take action and stand up for what they believe in.  

What are some other fun facts about yourself?

  • I listen to rap music religiously. 
  • I hate driving so I tend to walk most places. 
  • I love art and expression in all its forms
  • I consider most foods encased in something a sandwich ie burrito, gyro, hotdog etc.

 

Meet Ben Moose, Spring Intern for Gasp

Meet Ben Moose, Spring Intern for Gasp

Meet Ben Moose, Spring Intern for Gasp

​Where do you go to high school?

I go to high school at JCIB (Jefferson County International Baccalaureate School).

What do you hope to do after you graduate? 

I hope to pursue a career in atmospheric sciences, specifically meteorology. I am also interested in learning more about the atmosphere through environmental science.

What is your dream job? 

My dream job would be to work in a position with the National Weather Service in order to forecast and communicate important warnings and predictions about the weather and environment.

What do you hope to learn while interning with Gasp? 

I hope to gain experience with possibly analyzing and interpreting data, to gain better communication skills, and to learn about the air quality issues in Birmingham and the efforts to reduce pollution in the area.

Why is our mission to reduce air pollution important to you? 

I believe that all people, regardless of wealth, should have access to clean air. I understand the issues with air quality in the city and region and I believe that reducing air pollution and encouraging initiatives for clean air is important to the well-being of many in the city. 

What is your favorite food? 

My favorite foods include hamburgers (especially Shake Shack burgers) and many types of seafood (oysters, crab cakes, etc.).

What are your hobbies?

I enjoy tracking the weather and looking at various weather models and atmospheric data to compare my predictions to those of meteorologists. Additionally, I am interested in data analysis and the creation of data visualizations, as well as researching and learning about various scientific topics (through Science Olympiad). 

Who or what are your influences?

Some important influences, in terms of my career plans, are the weather events (such as the 2011 tornado outbreak) and meteorologists that led to my interest in atmospheric science. Academically, I have had many teachers that have influenced my interests and personality through providing me with outside opportunities and teaching information in a dynamic and interesting way.

What are some other fun facts about yourself?

I participate in cross-country, and I enjoy running, especially long-distance running. I run 5K and 10K races and participate in cross-country meets. Additionally, I enjoy mathematics and science, especially the subjects of calculus, statistics, and physics, and their applications to real-world issues and problems.

Meet Allie Guadarrama, Spring Intern for Gasp

Meet Allie Guadarrama, Spring Intern for Gasp

Meet Allie Guadarrama, Spring Intern for Gasp

Allie is serving as Gasp’s Climate Change Intern.

Where do you go to high school?/What do you hope to do after you graduate? Currently I am a Junior at Vestavia Hills High School. After High School I would like to move to the West, either California or Washington, and attend college in one of those two states. I would like to major in Environmental Economics and Public Policy and have a minor in Political Science or Global Business. 

What is your dream job? My dream job would be one where I could alleviate the Climate Crisis by collaborating with people from different backgrounds. I also like the idea of using public policy to create an economy where people can prosper, but the environment is not put in danger.

What do you hope to learn while interning with Gasp? One of the reasons I joined GASP was precisely to gain some experience by working alongside with different people and organizations to reach one of the most important challenges that humanity is facing. 

Why is our mission to reduce air pollution important to you? The Climate Crisis is not something that is not happening at home, and is not something that only involves scientists and politicians: the Climate Crisis affects us all. Some of the people who are most affected by it are low income families, and this is where Climate Justice becomes a key factor of the problem. Companies usually pollute areas where low income families live, and since these can’t afford to move, they have to struggle with the environmental and health issues that these big corporations are creating. That is why I choose to get involved with GASP, because their mission is to bring justice to these families. 

What is your favorite food? My favorite food is pancakes. The more the toppings, the better. I enjoy mexican and italian food as well, but I usually crave sweets, and pancakes are the best because they are sweet -but not too much- and they are incredibly soft.

What are your hobbies? In my free time I like to watch commentary videos, video essays, and sitcoms; I like to cook, but I prefer to bake; I like to read although I’m not a fast reader; I enjoy painting; I love spending time with my friends and finding new places. 

Who or what are your influences? My brother and animals. When I was little I always thought that it was so unfair that thousands of species went extinct every day because of mistakes that humans were making and that we should protect them because this is their planet as well. Then, when my brother was born, I felt the moral obligation to create a better world for him.

What are some other fun facts about yourself?

  • I love fashion (not fast fashion though)
  • I love sloths because I can relate to them
  • I know the rap of several twenty one pilots songs
  • Whenever I’m home alone I put on my Broadway shows
  • When I was little I had a rabbit and we used to play Tag.

The Role of Health Departments in Promoting Environmental Justice

The Role of Health Departments in Promoting Environmental Justice

The Role of Health Departments in Promoting Environmental Justice

Background

If you’ve read anything else on this website, you probably already know about the environmental justice challenges facing Birmingham. Air pollution from industries and factories disproportionately affects communities of color and low-income neighborhoods, putting residents at a greater risk for diseases from asthma to cancer. Part of Gasp’s work includes trying to get the Jefferson County Department of Health (JCDH) to take action against this public health issue. This semester, I’ve been focused on research that will find examples of actions that other health departments have taken to promote environmental justice. Hopefully, after seeing what other departments are doing, the JCDH will have some ideas for promoting environmental justice here in Birmingham.

What I Found

I looked at three different cases to understand how health departments across the country have been addressing environmental justice. Two examples are from the southeast, so Birmingham can be compared to similar regions. The last example is from the west coast, so that Birmingham can be compared to the country at large.

North Carolina

Birmingham is not unlike other regions of the US in terms of its struggles with industrial pollution. In North Carolina, industrial food animal production is a critical pollution source. Contaminants from these facilities, which raise hogs and other animals, pollute nearby air and water. Rural, poor communities are the ones most affected. They live closer to the facilities and may lack the economic resources necessary to take care of their health.

Researchers from Johns Hopkins studied health departments in North Carolina and seven other states to see why health departments aren’t doing more to promote environmental justice. They identified what kind of help and support would allow health departments to be more effective: educational materials to hand out, more funding for the department, and more training for staff. This study gives a starting point for equipping health departments with the resources necessary to address environmental justice concerns.

Cover of the Environmental Justice chapter in Fulton County’s Comprehensive Plan for 2035

Fulton County, GA

Geographically speaking, this example was the closest to home! The Fulton County Board of Health got funding for an environmental planner in 2010, and one of the responsibilities of this position is to implement the board’s Environmental Justice Initiative (EJI). This is already impressive compared to Alabama; a search for “environmental justice” on the Jefferson County Health Department website brings up exactly zero results.

Under the EJI, the board added an environmental justice amendment to the Fulton County zoning regulations. The amendment defined “pollution point” and redefined “environmentally adverse use” and “environmentally stressed community.” It also provided separation distances to be maintained between environmentally adverse land uses and environmentally stressed communities. This is huge! We can’t fix environmental justice issues if we don’t acknowledge them first. Birmingham’s zoning ordinance does not have similar definitions; it discusses the importance of preventing “adverse environmental impacts” without defining what those impacts might be.

Another achievement of the Fulton County Board of Health’s EJI was getting an entire chapter dedicated to environmental justice in the county’s comprehensive plan for 2035. For Birmingham, environmental justice is mentioned in the first part of our comprehensive plan (“Understanding Birmingham Today”), but is never mentioned in the last chapter, titled “Stewardship and Implementation of the Plan.” In other words, our plan recognizes the issue of environmental justice, but it does not provide the steps we should take to address the problem.

Interactive EJ Map from Washington

Collage of pictures from listening sessions in Washington

Washington State

My research with the southeastern cases confirmed the west coast’s status as a national leader in environmental affairs. In Washington, the state Department of Health was part of a collaboration with a plethora of partners, including the University of Washington and the Washington State Department of Ecology, to create an interactive environmental justice (EJ) map. The collaborative project started with eleven listening sessions — meetings throughout the state where residents were invited to be part of the process by voicing their environmental concerns. After that, a symposium was held so that researchers, government officials, and community members could decide what indicators to use for the EJ map. The final map was developed using indicators of pollution burden combined with population characteristics so that it ultimately shows where environmental risk is the most impactful (based on pollution exposure and the ability of that community to manage health risks).

There’s no tool like this in Alabama. Nationally, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) launched the EJScreen tool, but it provides a rough overview without being specific to communities within the state. For example, the EJScreen provides information about particulate matter and ozone, but it does not take Alabamians’ specific concerns into account. Washington’s EJ map reflects the concerns of individual residents. The result is a map that more accurately describes the state of environmental justice in Washington. Government officials can use the map to shape future policy decisions, so I’m excited to follow this example and see what happens in Washington in the future!

Reflections on Research

Here’s something that you and I and everyone else already knew: advocacy work is slow. So slow. Ridiculously, impossibly, tantalizingly slow — which is what makes it so admirable that this is the work to which people devote their entire lives. In researching the educational tools in North Carolina, the government plans in Fulton County, and the interactive map in Washington, I’ve done my own small part, but there’s still much more to be done. The research still needs to be presented to the Jefferson County Department of Health, and if they decide to take action, the ideas used across the country will need to be modified to suit Birmingham. The process is long, but that’s how you know that you’re working towards something worthwhile: a Birmingham that is cleaner and healthier for all its residents. 

About the Author

Mariam Massoud

Mariam Massoud

Volunteer

Mariam Massoud is a civil engineering major in the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Engineering. In 2018, Mariam was selected for the prestigious Fulbright US-UK Summer Institute Scholarship. She’s been an all-star volunteer with Gasp for the past year, assisting with research projects.