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Environmental Health Justice Research Interest Group

A Model of Environmental Health Justice

Our Focus


Student Investigators


Seed Grant Project Descriptions

Reducing Vulnerability of the Urban Homeless to Climate Change

Urban Gardening & Airborne Particulate Matter: Exploring the Fate of Traffic- Related Emissions and the Effectiveness of Risk Reduction Measures

Building Community Resilience: Mapping the Terrain and Refining the Practice

Toward a Community-based Participatory Research Partnership for Environmental Health Justice in Parkdale, Toronto: A Capacity Assessment and Pilot Study

Arts-Enabled Approaches to Popular Education on Global Warming

Additional RIG Projects

RIG Events

New RIG Website

Our Focus

The goal of environmental health justice was to assess (measure), understand (explain, account for), and address the relationship between social inequality and environmental health. We added the term ‘health’ to environmental justice to emphasize the important, but underscrutinized role for public health in addressing environmental variables as a key determinant of population health. Environmental health justice therefore “combines citizen activism with environmental-health problem solving with demands for civil and human rights” (Corburn, 2005, p.35). According to Corburn (2005), when communities inject their own knowledge to reorient traditional health and academic investigations and outcomes, they are often in the process of striving for environmental health justice. Environmental health justice involves both a critique of traditional top-down oriented science and an examination of the politics of environmental health decision-making. More specifically, environmental health justice can be defined as the process for enabling marginalized populations to improve health and environmental systems in ways that both redress past and present discrimination, to improve access to environmental benefits, as well as to promote equity in access to information and decision making that optimizes the conditions of their health and well being (Steger, 2007). This model of environmental health justice is illustrated at the top of this page.

The overall aim of the RIG was to advance the theory and practice of how social inequities in environmental health in the city are (re)produced, assessed, understood/experienced, & addressed. The focus of this RIG was to bring together diverse stakeholders from academia (a range of disciplines and paradigms), public health, government, community organizations and non-profit organizations to:

  • understand (describe & explain) the inequitable distribution of environmental health outcomes within and amongst urban populations and sub-populations in Canada, with specific focus on the GTA
  • understand and give voice to the lived experience of environmental injustice, from a community perspective
  • increase collective understanding of the need to link environmental health inequities to systematic inequities in the allocation of other determinants of health (deeply structured, intersecting marginalities), across a variety of scales, and deeply rooted in place
  • apply place-based analyses to improve understanding of the interconnections among experience, scale, and the politics of place in the production of environmental health injustice and emphasize a ‘settings’ approach to health promotion as a mobilizing framework for neighbourhood level public health intervention
  • complement traditionally deficit-oriented research on environmental inequity with a focus on community resilience (what it is, where it exists, how it can be built and strengthened)
  • understand how affected populations can be mobilized to work with allies in the academic, public health and NGO sectors to advocate for change
  • identify an appropriate range of environmental health promotion responses to environmental injustice in the city
  • explore innovative (arts-informed) approaches to raising public awareness and mobilizing for social change

The RIG had the following three specific substantive foci:

  • Perception, governance and distribution of environmental health inequities in the urban context
  • Urban form and the built environment as key components of environmental justice
  • Climate justice in an urban context


  • Blake Poland (Public Health, University of Toronto)
  • Cheryl Teelucksingh (Sociology, Ryerson University)
  • Clare Wiseman (Centre for Environment and Graduate Collaborative Program in Environment and Health, University of Toronto)
  • David Macleod (Toronto Environment Office)
  • Donald Cole (Public Health, University of Toronto)
  • Elizabeth Hunt  (Institute in Management and Community Development, Concordia University)
  • Eric Crighton (Geography, University of Ottawa)
  • Fe de Leon (Canadian Environmental Law Association)
  • Geoffrey Edwards (Geomatics, Laval University)
  • Jeffrey Masuda (Post-doctoral Fellow, Centre for Population Health Promotion Research, University of British Columbia and University of Toronto and founder, Canadian Network for Environmental Health and Social Equity)
  • Johanna Wandel (Geography and Environmental Management, University of Waterloo)
  • Joy Parr (Canada Research Chair, Geography, University of Western Ontario)
  • Manuel Riemer (Department of Community Psychology, Wilfred Laurier University)
  • Marie Morrison (Planning Associate, Region of Waterloo)
  • Mark Pajot (Environmental Health Division, Peel Public Health)
  • Melanie Lalani (Toronto Public Health's Environmental Protection Office)
  • Rick Eagan (St. Christopher House)
  • Sarah Wakefield (Geography, University of Toronto and Acting Director, U of T Sustainability Office)

Student Investigators

  • Alexis Crabtree (Global Health MPH Student, University of British Columbia )
  • Ciann Wilson (Human Biology, Philosophy & Sociology undergraduate, University of Toronto)
  • Nadia Formigoni (Health Promotion MHSc Student, University of Toronto)
  • Paul Hadian  (Sociology undergraduate, Ryerson)
  • Sabra Ripley (Health Promotion MHSc Student, University of Toronto )
  • Shannon Lane (Health Promotion MHSc Student, University of Toronto)


  • Aiding Dramatic Change in Development
  • Boal Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed
  • Canadian Environmental Law Association
  • Clean Air Foundation
  • Colours of Poverty Network
  • Environmental Justice Organizing Initiative
  • FoodShare
  • Health Canada
  • Just Earth
  • National Aboriginal Health Organization (NAHO)
  • Ontario Ministry of Environment
  • Peel Public Health
  • St Christopher House
  • Street Health
  • Toronto Environment Office
  • Toronto Green Communities
  • Toronto Public Health
  • Walk and Bike for Life

Seed Grant Project Descriptions

1. Reducing Vulnerability of the Urban Homeless to Climate Change

Project Invesigator (s):
Dr. Manuel Riemer (Department of Community Psychology, Wilfrid Laurier University)
Johanna Wandel (Geography and Environmental Management, University of Waterloo)

Lead Community and/or Policy Partner:
Region of Waterloo, Department of Social Services

There is little doubt within the scientific community that the consequences of global climate change pose some of the biggest threats to the health and well-being of humans. However, these negative impacts are not evenly distributed. Some groups, such as those members of our society who experience homelessness in urban centers, are more vulnerable than others. With this pilot research we are working towards a better understanding of the vulnerability of those experiencing homelessness in the urban centers of Waterloo region. This proposal seeks funding to strengthen our knowledge transfer and community engagement strategy to ensure that our research findings are translated into concrete and meaningful action. The funding from CUHI would enable us to develop and evaluate an innovative community-based strategy now so that we can make it a core element of our planned future grant applications.

2. Urban Gardening & Airborne Particulate Matter: Exploring the Fate of Traffic-Related Emissions and the Effectiveness of Risk Reduction Measures

Project Investigator (s):
Dr. Clare LS Wiseman (Centre for Environment, University of Toronto)

Lead Community Partner and/or Policy Partner:

While urban gardening is widely known for its community development and health benefits, food grown in the city can contain high levels of contaminants. Although a fair amount of research has focussed on how to reduce contaminant levels in garden soils, little has examined the long-term effectives of such risk reduction measures. Given the fact that urban air is a likely continuous source of inputs, remediation measures such as raised beds may not be effective over the longer term. Generally, urban communities located in the vicinity of polluting industrial facilities and high volumes of traffic can be expected to have higher airborne metal inputs. Unfortunately, such communities often have greater poverty rates, which raises questions regarding justice and equity. Very little research has been conducted on airborne metal inputs to and the long-term effectiveness of soil remediation measures, especially in the context of the relationship between poverty and place of residence. Working closely with Foodshare, the aim of this project is to systematically assess what is known about the airborne sources and fate of metal contamination in urban gardens, their uptake by plants and the effectiveness of soil remediation measures. The focus will be on assessing knowledge on traffic-related and lesser known metals such as platinum group elements, barium and antimony and to cooperatively identify priority areas for future research.

3. Building Community Resilience: Mapping the Terrain and Refining the Practice

Principal Investigator (s):

Blake Poland ( Dalla Lana School of Public Health, University of Toronto )

Lead Community and/or Policy Partners:

Aiding Dramatic Change in Development
Environmental Justice Organizing Initiative – EnJOI
Peel Public Health, Environmental Health Division
Boal Centre for Theatre of the Oppressed


The world, and North America in particular, is entering a period of unprecedented change. There is mounting evidence of the potential for (and pressure for action to avoid) catastrophic runaway climate change, unprecedented species extinctions and environmental degradation, the persistence (if not growth) of alarming inequities in health, and accelerated resource depletion. By many estimates we currently possess most of the technological know-how to solve the world’s fiscal, economic, environmental, social justice and climatological crises. In other words, the problem is not technical but social. Consensus is emerging that building resilience at 3 nested levels (psychological/ personal, community, systems level) is or must be at the centre of convergent social justice and environmental social change movements. Resilience is widely understood to refer to the ability of communities, persons, or systems to withstand shocks or stress without collapse, and perhaps the ability to accept and embrace (as opposed to resist) change. We are seeking seed grant funds to further develop and pilot test a promising new community resilience development methodology. Seed funding will enable us to: undertake a more thorough literature review of convergent fields; consolidate earlier work on the development of a model of arts-enabled personal and collective transformation, and specifically linked to the development of community resilience; create a workable arts-enabled critical methodology for application in community settings; pilot test this approach in community settings in northeast Brazil and Canada (comparative case study); develop a fuller proposal for funding, drawing in colleagues from other centres; writing up the literature review and pilot study results for publication.

4. Toward a Community-based Participatory Research Partnership for Environmental Health Justice in Parkdale, Toronto: A Capacity Assessment and Pilot Study

Principal Investigator(s):

Jeffrey Masuda (UBC/University of Toronto), Rick Eagan (St Christopher House) Dr. Cheryl Teelucksingh (Ryerson University) and Blake Poland (University of Toronto)

Lead Community and/or Policy Partners:
St Christopher House

Recognizing that marginalized communities are disproportionately exposed to environmental health threats and that considerable capacity already exists in many communities that could be mobilized to address issues of environmental health inequity, the aim of this project is to assess the capacity and priorities for community action for environmental health in the neighbourhood of Parkdale. First, a series of interviews with key community stakeholders will be used to both identify current opportunities and constraints that they face in mobilizing around common goals for environmental health in the neighbourhood. Second, using a technique called Photovoice, community members suggested by stakeholders will participate in a two-week photography-mediated assessment and interview of environmental health hazards and assets in order to identify and map local knowledge about the spaces (spatial patterns) and places (experiences, narratives) of environmental health for community members in Parkdale. The project will be guided by a community advisory committee which will include up to 10 representatives of local community, government, and/or private sector organizations who share a common interest in promoting a healthier neighbourhood environment in Parkdale, Toronto. The results of the project will be used to inform the development of a sustainable community-based participatory research partnership that mobilizes local capacity and knowledge into meaningful community action that enhances resilience and promotes environmental health equity.

5. Arts-Enabled Approaches to Popular Education on Global Warming

Principal Investigator(s):

Geoffrey Edwards (Canada Research Chair in Geomatics, Université Laval) Marie Louise Bourbeau (Bourbeau Voice Dynamics)

Lead Community and/or Policy Partners:

Peel Public Health, the City of Toronto, Bourbeau Voice Dynamics and Archibald Arts

Documentaries such as that produced by Al Gore or books such as George Monbiot’s Heat or Thomas Homer-Dixon’s The Upside of Down, provide a great deal of information about the relationship between ourselves and our environment, but this information is not automatically integrated into our understanding of our everyday lives and activities. Furthermore, these documentaries often leave viewers in a depressed state, a feeling of powerlessness to change what appear to be insuperably large forces and social phenomena. The overall objective of the proposed project is to design an embodied, immersive and participative experience through a combination of artistic, technological, and scientific means, that allows participants to understand implicitly and automatically how their own actions contribute to global warming and how those actions might be changed as a consequence. Furthermore, the project seeks to validate the initial design by implementing and focus testing a reduced version of the installation in a way that involves urban community groups active in the area of climate change. This work is framed with a view to enhancing community resilience and addressing complex questions that include equity issues in a way that doesn’t oversimplify, and hence reaching, informing and enabling the public in new ways.

Additional RIG Projects

  • Revisioning our (Embodied) Place in a Warming Planet: A Resonant Installation Approach
  • Health Promoting Inner City Environments: Towards a participatory research partnership to reduce environmental and health inequities and promote health in Vancouver’s Downtown East Side
  • Making Sense of Spatial Inequities in Risk and Health: The Politics of Place in Land-Use Decisions in Hamilton, Ontario
  • Barriers to establishing environmental justice as a social movement in those contexts without an active civil rights movement (using the cities of Toronto, Canada and London, England as case studies)
  • Negotiating infant health risks across socioeconomic, geographic and environmental contexts
  • Assessing Canadians Perceptions of Climate Change Health Risks.
  • SARS, Governmentality and Global Cities. Unmasking a health care crisis in Toronto, Hong Kong and Singapore
  • Comprehensive Health Status Report: Climate Change Health Impacts in Peel Region
  • SUCCEED: Stengthening Urban Communities' Capacity to Promote Environmental Health Equity Through Dialogue-Centred Research
  • Who Has the Power?: The Energy Crisis And Environmental Justice in Toronto
  • SSHRC Environment Strategic Research Grant
  • SSHRC Development Initiative Grant

Past RIG Events

Environmental Health Justice Seminar Series

Friday, January 28th, 2011, 3:30 pm
Presenter: Randy Haluza-Delay, King's University College "Post-Carbon Imaginaries in an Oilsands Hegemony"

Wednesday, November 24th, 2010, 5:00 pm
Presenter: Manuel Riemer, Wilfrid Laurier University "Homelessness & Climate Change: Are We Ready?"

Tuesday, April 27, 2010, 4:30 pm
Presenter: Tina Clark, Transition Towns "Community Resilience & Social Equity in Changing Times"

Thursday, April 22, 2010, 4:00 pm
Presenter: Josephine Archbold, Toronto Public Health "Promoting Urban Agriculture in Toronto: Public Health Consideration of the Benefits and Risks"

Wednesday, March 24th, 2010, 4:00 pm
Presenter: Norah Mackendrick, University of Toronto "My Organic Baby: Green Consumerism and the Individualization of Risk"

Thursday, February 11, 2010, 4:00 pm
Presenter: Blake Poland, University of Toronto “Resilience in the Face of Climate Change and Peak Oil: Community-Building Responses for an Equitable Transition to a Low-Carbon Society”

Thursday, January 21, 2010, 4:00 pm
Presenter: Cheryl Teelucksingh, Ryerson University "Local Knowledge and the Use of Photovoice: Building Community Capacity for Environmental Health Promotion in teh Neighbourhood of Parkdale (Toronto)"

Thursday, December 3, 2009, 4:00 pm 
Presenter: Fabio Cabarcas, University of British Columbia “Community capacity for reducing pesticide harm in an indigenous community in Ecuador

Thursday, November 19, 2009, 4:00 pm
Presenter: Jennifer Jimenez & Stephen Sillett, Aiding Dramatic Change in Development “Catching the unspoken- the use of theatre for community based research: an experience informing policies for controlling HIV/AIDS in South Africa

Thursday, October 22, 2009, 4:00 pm
Presenter: Manuel Riemer, Wilfrid Laurier University “Community-based environmental change:  engaging youth in environmental change and reducing the vulnerability to climate change of people facing homelessness in urban centers”

Thursday, September 17, 2009, 4:00 pm
Presenter: Rich Whate, Toronto Public Health, Environmental ProtectionOffice “Right to know initiative-Development of a Community Right-To-Know Strategy for Toronto

In the Spring of 2009, the Environmental Health Justice RIG hosted their first series of conversational cafés. A conversational café is a forum for public conversation that brings together people who are interested in a dialogue on a given topic. The first one was held on March 12th on Green Jobs and the ‘Green Economy’: Coming Soon or Pie in the Sky? We are grateful for Chalo Brueta from Banyon Tree Community Initiatives who was the guest of the forum. Another conversational café was held on April 15th at Mangiacake Café on Caring for our Environment: Do Small Actions Really Make a Difference” with Stuart Chan from the Sustainability Office at the University of Toronto as the guest speaker and Blake Poland as the moderator. Stay tuned to our website for upcoming conversational cafés which are being planned for the upcoming months.

Green Jobs and the 'Green Economy': Coming Soon or a Pie in the Sky? - Parkdale Conversation Cafe
Thursday, March 12th, 2009

Links between Pollution and Poverty in Toronto Neighbourhoods
Thursday, March 26th, 2009

Moderator:   Frank Cunningham, Cities Centre, University of Toronto

Presenters: PollutionWatch; Fe de Leon, Researcher, Canadian Environmental Law Association; Jennifer Foulds, Communications Director, Environmental Defence

Panelists: Loren Vanderlinden, Toronto Public Health, Environmental Protection Office; Rich Whate, Toronto Public Health, Environmental Protection Office; Lina Cino, Toronto Environmental Alliance, Toxics Campaigner

Pollution and Poverty Event Poster

You're Loud, You Stink, and You're In Their Face': Governmentality and Environmental Health Justice in the City

Jeffrey Masuda (Post-doctoral Fellow, Centre for Population Health Promotion Research, University of British Columbia and University of Toronto and founder, Canadian Network for Environmental Health and Social Equity)

Thursday, February 26, 2009

Coming Together and Beyond: From a Single Arts-Based Research Project to an Arts-Informed Community-Based Research Collaborative on Homelessness

Izumi Sakamoto (University of Toronto Factor-Inwentash Faculty of Social Work); Julie Maher (Ontario Women’s Health Network)

PDF of Sakamoto Presentation Slides

Bottom-up Citizens' Participation in Urban Governance: The Case of Living City, Santiago, Chile

Lake Sagaris (Geography & Planning, University of Toronto)
December 3rd, 2008

Arts-Embodied Research Installations

Geoffrey Edwards (Geomatics, Laval University)
November 13th, 2008

Official Launch of the “Environmental Health Justice in the City” RIG
Thursday, October 9, 2008

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