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.
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.
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
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.
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 workgroup often partners with other workgroups to provide up-to-date data analyses on exposure to carcinogens as well as the burden of cancer and disparities.
Individuals affiliated with the following organizations have participated in the Network, many as active members of Workgroups, and some as participants in quarterly meetings or other Network activities.
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.