Community Engagement Core (CEC)

"Community Engagement and Urban Agriculture: Addressing Concerns About Toxicants in Soil, Water and Plants"

Core Narative

People living in disadvantaged neighborhoods with high levels of obesity, poverty, poor nutrition, health disparities, and exposures to environmental toxicants are subject to “cumulative impacts” that put them at greater risk for illness and cancer, including a toxicant induced form of non-alcoholic fatty liver disease (NAFLD) called TASH (Toxicant-Associated Steatohepatitis). The UCSD SRC Community Engagement Core utilizes community-based participatory processes to help raise public awareness in San Diego County, Imperial County and Tijuana about the risks posed by TASH, while implementing ways to prevent and reduce toxicant exposure, narrow health disparities, and reverse the escalating increase in NAFLD and TASH.

Summary of Core

The Community Engagement Core (CEC) facilitates bi-directional knowledge exchange between our Superfund Research Center (SRC) and local communities to reduce cumulative impacts, improve nutrition and lower health disparities in disadvantaged neighborhoods of San Diego County, Imperial County and the U.S.-Mexico border region including rural and tribal lands. By empowering youth, conducting workshops, collaborating with communities to develop further research and interventions, developing culturally responsive multimedia science communication tools, and modeling innovative best practices in community engagement, the CEC extends the reach and impact of the science and technological innovations emanating from our SRC. The CEC builds the capacity of vulnerable communities in U.S. EPAs Region 9 and part of Mexico to identify, prioritize and resolve environmental and public health issues related to environmental exposures and Superfund toxicants. The overarching goal is to help prevent toxicant exposure, narrow health disparities, reduce NAFLD and TASH susceptibility, reverse the escalating increase in NAFLD and minimize the risk of TASH, especially in communities that are predominantly Hispanic and Native American. Utilizing an integrative, Sustainability Science, place-based approach with a strong commitment to civic engagement, the CEC will build on our existing community-university partnerships. We will work at sites where, for the past five years, we have been directing best practices in community engagement for exposure prevention and intervention. We are co-designing these interventions through bidirectional interaction with our community partners facilitated through our main community partner the Global Action Research Center in San Diego. The CEC will share SRC science and technology through participatory neighborhood-based educational workshops, trainings, citizen science, youth leadership development, and cumulative impact risk communication. Our approach is rooted in sustainable urban agricultural practices (community gardens and food forests) and the installation of green infrastructure (e.g., ecological landscape and biotic modifications) designed to manage/harvest stormwater and urban runoff in ways that reduce the amount of, and exposure to, urban toxicant contaminants.



PubMed Central ID: 
Cooper, A. M., Felix, D., Alcantara, F., Zaslavsky, I., Work, A., Watson, P. L., Pezzoli, K., Yu, Q., Zhu, D., Scavo, A. J., Zarabi, Y., & Schroeder, J. I. (2020). Monitoring and mitigation of toxic heavy metals and arsenic accumulation in food crops: A case study of an urban community garden. Plant direct, 4(1), e00198.
PubMedID: 31956855

Al-Delaimy, W. K., Larsen, C. W., Pezzoli, K. (2014) Differences in health symptoms among residents living near illegal dump sites in Los Laureles Canyon, Tijuana, Mexico: a cross sectional survey. In.t J. Environ. Res. Public Health. 11(9), 9532-52.

PubMedID: 25226411
PubMed Central ID: 

Pezzoli, K., Tukey, R., Sarabia, H., Zaslavsky, I., Miranda, M. L., Suk, W. A., Lin, A., Ellisman, M. (2007) The NIEHS Environmental Health Sciences Data Resource Portal: placing advanced technologies in service to vulnerable communities. Environ Health Perspect. 115(4), 564-71. doi: 10.1289/ehp.9817

PubMedID: 17450225

Main Contact Information

Core Leader
  • Dr. Keith Pezzoli
    Director, Urban Studies and Planning
    Director, Center for Sustainability Science, Planning and Design
    Professor, Department of Communication, UCSD

Core Assistant
  • Kelsey Lindner
    Community Engagement and Research Translation Specialist, Department of Communication



UCSD Superfund Research Center
University of California, San Diego
Pharmacology Department
9500 Gilman Drive, Mail Code 0722
La Jolla, CA 92093-0722