Water Health Literacy in Philadelphia

Jolie holding bug in front of river




Associate Professor Of German, Founding Director PPEH

Project Summary

Dr. Marilyn Howarth, Tom McKeon, and I are working, through the Penn Program in Environmental Humanities  and the Center for Excellence of Environmental Toxicology, on “Environmental Health Literacy and the Human Impacts on Water Quality”. Our research began by conduct focus groups discussing water sanitation, conservation, and the transparency of information related to these issues. Through these studies, we will identify misconceptions, gaps in knowledge, and questions communities have not considered. For instance, many subjects do not drink “spigot” water, or tap water, because they do not believe its clean. However, Philadelphia’s water system is sanitary, and many health related problems come from poor pipes that go directly to homes and schools. There are affordable methods where individuals can ask the water company to repair their pipes, but these solutions are not widely propagated.

We aim to create educational materials to help improve the water health literacy of people living in Philadelphia, based on the needs presented in these focus groups. We will be producing an app that will help people the local water sanitation on site along the Schuylkill. However, other materials may be digital or physical, presenting anyone who needs information with guidelines, information and resources to help them take advantage of their health and environment. For example, I am working on an educational calendar, with each spread concentrating on a water health related topic. Some communities deal more acutely with health related problems, and other communities have clean pipes, but need to know about the danger of dumping pharmaceuticals down the drain, while still others resources may display similar information for audiences of different ages. Hopefully we can use small focus groups to test these materials, and then develop means to produce, promote, and distribute them. These materials should ultimately help citizens take their health and environmental needs into their own hands.