In October of 2020, DHEC was selected as a recipient of a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) grant for environmental justice projects that benefit low-income and minority communities in South Carolina.
Through the State Environmental Justice Cooperative Agreement Program, EPA is providing grants over a two-year period to work collaboratively with environmental justice communities to understand, promote and integrate approaches that provide meaningful and measurable improvements to public health and the environment.
DHEC will use its $200,000 grant to develop a Community-Managed Disaster Risk Reduction (CMDRR) training program in eight underserved communities in the North Charleston area that will help these neighborhoods better prepare for, respond to, and recover from disasters like hurricanes, flooding, chemical releases and pandemics.
Participants from the eight selected neighborhoods -- Accabee, Chicora/Cherokee, Union Heights, Howard Heights, Windsor Place, Five Mile, Rosemont, and Liberty Hill -- as well as other EJ communities throughout the state, will attend in-person and virtual training sessions centered on disaster preparation and recovery. Participants will complete assignments that demonstrate their training in how to best address various scenarios caused during emergencies, including unhealthy home conditions, food insecurities, and energy or weatherization issues. Community disaster drills and exercises will also be part of the CMDRR training program. The program has been dubbed "EJ Strong."
EJ Strong Workshops
The first three, free-of-cost trainings will be for 2-days each. The 4th training will be for one day and will be a Train-the-Trainer Workshop. All 2-day trainings will be held on a Friday - Saturday combination. The first Training will be held on Friday, June 25 – Saturday, June 26, 2021. The other workshops will be held in January, June, and September 2022. Participation in the series is free but requires a firm commitment to attend all the sessions. Enrollment is limited to help foster an interactive learning experience.
Our partners: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities, Clemson: College of Behavioral, Social and Health Sciences, College of Charleston: Center for Coastal Environmental & Human Health, U of SC: Arnold School of Public Health.
Workshop #1 | June 25 - 26, 2021
Roughly 30 community leaders who live or work in overburdened communities within South Carolina participated in the first EJ Strong workshop on June 25 and 26. "Environmental Justice (EJ) Strong: Strengthening Communities for Disaster Risk Reduction, Response, & Recovery in SC" is an innovative, hands-on training currently being used in the Philippines and other areas where natural disasters take place often. This Community-Managed Disaster Risk Reduction program is the first time this training is being offered in the USA. A total of 4 free workshops will be held. SC DHEC; EPA; LAMC, a non-profit organization in North Charleston; U of SC; College of Charleston; and Clemson are collaborating partners for these trainings.
Workshop #2 | April 29 - 30, 2022
EJ Strong conducted Workshop #2 “Strengthening Communities for Disaster Risk Reduction, Response, and Recovery in South Carolina” in April 2022. Partners and participants such as DHEC, Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities (LAMC), U of SC, College of Charleston, and the SC Office of Resilience met in North Charleston to discuss disaster planning and prevention of disaster-related health impacts. Community Planning was essential in the workshop as smaller teams worked to identify Participatory Learning & Action tools (PLA) and implement community-managed disaster risk reduction plans. Participants of Workshop #2 were able to discuss healthy homes and flood cleanup with presenter Michael Goldschmidt of USDA/HUB National Healthy Homes. Mary Reynolds of EPA Region 4 also presented information on mold, moisture control, mold prevention, and mold cleanup.
Food and Nutrition Security were also central topics in the workshop. Dr. Florence Anoruo, professor at SC State University and US EPA/ USDA Science Advisory Board Appointee, presented the importance of food security, the lack of food access within the Orangeburg community, and resources that are available for all communities. Dr. Leslie Hossfeld, Dean of Clemson University’s College of Behavioral, Social Science & Health Sciences, discussed Food and Nutrition Security and presented a case study highlighting Mississippi’s Delta Fresh and Food Initiative on equitable food and farming systems and sustainable community relationships.
As part of the EJ Strong project, Clemson University has created a FOOD MAP for the entire state of SC! Locations of food pantries, farmers' markets, United Way Offices, etc. are part of this resource.
Field Practicum | July 22-23, 2022
EJ Strong continued with a Field Practicum July 22nd and 23rd in the Rosemont Community in Charleston, South Carolina. Using the EJ Strong Field Practicum Guide, EJ Strong members partnered with the Community of Rosemont to discuss the environmental impacts in their neighborhood. Community members welcomed EJ Strong to a tour of Rosemont, enlightening to the team their history and start of environmental burdens. Nancy C. Button, President of the Rosemont Neighborhood Council, and Community Member Herbert Maybank voiced their concerns about excessive flooding, pollution, property deterioration, and residents suffering from respiratory issues and cancer from past chemical releases. The team viewed the sound wall, a barrier between the Rosemont Community and Interstate- 26. Residents believe that the sound wall is the cause of excessive flooding the community has been experiencing. Marshes also surround Rosemont, which have led to concerns about sewage and legacy pollution. EJ Strong and members of Rosemont worked together on Community Managed Disaster Risk Reduction by completing the Participatory Disaster Risk Assessment which combines the information gathered for the vulnerability, capacity, and hazard assessments.
Lowcountry Alliance for Model Communities (LAMC), Arnold School of Public Health at the University of South Carolina, and the Medical University of South Carolina has partnered with the Rosemont Community on environmental surveillance. EJ Strong viewed an air monitoring system recently installed in the neighborhood to track air pollutants and water level monitors which will be used to alert residents to flooding in the area.
October 18, 2022
As part of the EJ Strong project, Clemson University has created a FOOD ACCESS MAP for the entire state of SC! Locations of food pantries, farmers' markets, United Way Offices, DHEC locations, and South Carolina Department of Social Services offices throughout the state are part of this resource.
The FOOD ACCESS MAP is a detailed, extensive resource, but it is by no means complete. It will remain a work in progress as more sites are added and the resource is kept up to date. Any agencies not currently represented on the map that would like to provide their information for inclusion should email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Lower Richland Field Practicum | November 4-5, 2022
EJ Strong partnered with the Community of Lower Richland to host the EJ Strong Field Practicum. Residents of Hopkins, South Carolina, Robert Reese, and Sheila Kimble represented the Lower Richland Community by actively planning the field practicum with the EJ Strong Team. This was the first workshop for the Lower Richland community. Groups focused on the primary concerns of flooding, toxic releases, and wildfire hazards. Residents of the Lower Richland Community also voiced concerns about the long-term adverse effects of the 1000-year flood that occurred in October 2015. Together, the EJ Strong Team and the Lower Richland Community worked on community-managed disaster risk reduction (CMDRR) assessments that examined the hazards, vulnerabilities, and capabilities to mitigate future disasters.
The Community of Lower Richland is in the lower region of Richland County. Surrounded by the Congaree River and Wateree River which create the Santee River, the community is known for its enriched agriculture and phenomenal water ecosystems. Consequently, flooding is a reoccurring issue, as rain events settle and accumulate throughout Lower Richland. The community, although rural, is heavily industrialized and hosts the Syvalmo Eastover Mill, Westinghouse, and the International Process Plants and Equipment Corp. Industrial entities can create high vulnerability in Hopkins, Gadsden, Eastover, and East Columbia due to potential toxic releases and wildfire exposure. Flooding, toxic releases, and wildfires are primary hazards within the Lower Richland Community that have produced legacy pollution and negatively impacted wildlife and the environment.
During the field practicum, Richland One Board Chairwoman Cheryl Harris discussed the devastating 1,000-year flood in October 2015. The Lower Richland Community was severely affected as residents faced massive flooding, deterioration of property, closure of roads, lack of shelter, and last-minute evacuations. Seven years later, the community is still recovering from the long-term effects of this disaster. Mitigation solutions for future emergencies include establishing a community response team and providing resident training on disaster prevention and safety. Early warning systems, evacuation shelters, and an evacuation plan are recommended for residents to plan and evacuate safely before a disaster occurs. The community relies heavily on their churches as recovery hubs and Fort Jackson National Guard as the first response – strengthening community engagement with local members, state agencies, and other stakeholders can build capacity for emergency response.