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Heinz Endowments Fund Center for Healthy Environments and Communities

To expand environmental public health efforts at the 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, and one of CHEC’s flagship programs.

Founded with initial funding by the Heinz Endowments in 2004, the purpose of CHEC is 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, DrPH, MPH, director of CHEC and assistant professor, Department of Environmental and Occupational Health. “We are extremely grateful to the Heinz Endowments for their 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 Pittsburgh Public Schools to improve health and nutrition of students; and conducting training with physicians on environmental health issues.

CHEC faculty members include Robbie Ali, MD, MPH, assistant professor, and Ravi Sharma, PhD, assistant professor, both of the Department of Behavioral and Community Health Sciences; and Charles Christian, MEd, CHEC manager. For more information on CHEC, visit

The Heinz Endowments supports efforts to make southwestern Pennsylvania a premier place to live and work, a center of learning and educational excellence, and a home to diversity and inclusion. Committed to helping its region to thrive as a whole community¯economically, ecologically, educationally, and culturally¯the foundation works within Pennsylvania and elsewhere in the nation to develop solutions to challenges that are national and even international in scope. One of the largest and most innovative independent philanthropic foundations in the country, the Endowments awarded more than $84 million in grants in 2007.


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