About

Purpose & Principles

Our vision is a future where people in Southwestern Pennsylvania are not exposed to toxic chemicals that contribute to cancer. 

For Southwestern Pennsylvania, this is a future in which all people have secure well-paying jobs that do not make them sick, and live in healthy homes in healthy neighborhoods, without racial disparities in exposure to toxics and in cancer rates. We imagine local, regional and state governments that act boldly to reduce hazardous exposures before they cause disease; to dismantle policies that perpetuate inequities in social and environmental conditions which in turn affect well-being; to hold industries accountable so it no longer pays to pollute, and to incentivize investments that establish Southwestern Pennsylvania as a hub of innovation for a green economy. We imagine the expansion of businesses that improve air and water quality, provide nutritious and safe products, maintain healthy workplaces, and invest in communities. We imagine engaged residents who believe that everyone has a right to good health and a clean environment, and that both of these are foundations of a thriving economy. The people of Southwestern Pennsylvania respect science and are empowered to take action in their households, communities, schools and workplaces towards a bright future they help create.

In the next five years, our network will take bold, collective action to dramatically and equitably reduce environmental threats that contribute to cancer and advance safe and healthy alternatives for all.

In June 2020, Network participants came together to develop this vision. Our Network underwent a strategic planning process in 2023 where we updated our vision to align with changes in environmental cancer prevention. For more about our motivations, commitments, and practices and principles for working together, see the Network’s Purpose and Principles.

Network participants

Network participants are scientists and survivors. We are changemakers and caretakers. We are leaders in communities, in healthcare and business, philanthropy and advocacy, representing organizations across sectors. We are affected – and motivated – by the ravages of cancer in our region. We are grounded in science, committed to prevention, and focused on the reduction of chemicals in our air, water, food, homes, workplaces, and products.

Leadership

The Network is convened and stewarded by a diverse group of local and national leaders in the fields of environmental health and cancer prevention.

EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
Dani Wilson

NETWORK COORDINATOR
Andre Green

LEADERSHIP COUNCIL
The following people currently serve as the Network’s Leadership Council.

Jason Beery, Director of Applied Research, UrbanKind

Stephanie Ciranni, Executive Director, Cancer Bridges

Lou Tierno, Director of Pennsylvania Sustainable Business Network, American Sustainable Business Network

Tina Ndoh, Associate Dean for Public Health Practice, University of Pittsburgh

Matt Mehalik, Executive Director, Breathe Project

Talor Musil, Field Manager, Environmental Health Project

Jess Friss, Director of Community Programs, Three Rivers Waterkeeper

Michelle Naccarati-Chapkis, Executive Director, Women for a Healthy Environment

Lyn Robertson, Retired, UPMC Hillman Cancer Center

Olivia Benson, Chief Operating Officer, The Forbes Fund 

SENIOR ADVISOR
Molly Jacobs, University of Massachusetts’ Lowell Center for Sustainable Production

Teams

Four teams supported by staff design and implement projects. They meet monthly and tri-annually to come together with other Network participants to share progress, expand learning, and collaborate on synergistic activities. These teams are Collective Action; Government Action; Science; Healing & Justice.

Collective Action

The Collective Action Team builds community awareness about environmental risk factors of concern in the region, as well as increases education on environmental risk factors for cancer and tools for action, with a particular focus on individuals impacted by cancer and their loved ones and healthcare professionals. They partner with a variety of neighborhood-based organizations, resident leaders, and technical experts to organize and train community members to take action for environmental justice in areas carrying disproportionate cancer burdens. This team also seeks to improve education methods and increase knowledge and motivate action among these populations using a bottom-up approach in which the priorities and needs of individuals impacted by cancer inform the information we encourage clinicians to provide to their patients.

Government Action

The Government Action Team identifies model and proposed policy solutions that will reduce exposure to environmental carcinogens, particularly in communities disproportionately impacted, and integrate environmental risk factors into cancer prevention. The team seeks to increase our region’s capacity to influence policy by uplifting existing initiatives of organizations participating in the Network. There is also a focus on all facets of government and ways in which we can influence them

Healing & Justice

The Healing & Justice Team provides guidance on how to equitably integrate the principles of healing and justice into all outcome-based work in the Network. This team focuses on ways we can collectively break down barriers of oppression and harm.

Science 

The Science Team supports the Network in interpreting and translating science accurately and effectively. It also seeks to advance research that has the potential to fill crucial gaps in knowledge needed to reduce environmental carcinogens, promote safer alternatives and catalyze systemic change towards healthy environments. This foundational team often partners with other action teams to provide up-to-date data analyses on exposure to carcinogens as well as the burden of cancer and disparities.

Participating Organizations

Individuals affiliated with the following organizations have participated in the Network, many as active members of action teams, and some as participants in quarterly meetings or other Network activities.

History

In 2019, the Lowell Center convened a Symposium on Cancer and Environment at the Phipps Center that brought together 130 people from an array of sectors to share information and perspectives on the twin problems of elevated rates of cancer and high exposures to environmental chemicals in Southwestern Pennsylvania. Organizers and participants included national and regional leaders: cancer-focused researchers and organizations providing support to people with cancer; community-based organizations; public health experts; environmental scientists and advocates; funders and others. The meeting was a milestone in a process of building relationships among people who are not frequently at the same table, and it spurred interest by many participants in ongoing work together.  The Cancer and Environment Network of Southwestern Pennsylvania was launched soon after the symposium to provide a structure for ongoing collaboration.

Today, the Network is thriving, with staff and volunteer leaders collaborating on a series of projects for the purpose of elevating attention to environmental contributors to cancer and advancing solutions. Inspiration for the place-based Network came from the national Cancer Free Economy Network; the two efforts benefit from one another with exchange of expertise, resources and learnings.