Educating and Empowering Environmental Justice Communities to Identify and Address Chemical Exposure and Human Health Impacts Associated with Industrial Facility Operations

Environmental Justice communities living in areas where industrial facilities operate and oil and gas drilling and production activities take place are vulnerable to exposure to toxic chemicals being released into the environment by the facilities and the communities frequently experience health impacts.  These communities are frequently over burdened, disadvantaged, underserved and extremely susceptible to the cumulative impacts associated with their toxic exposure. Various methods have been utilized to respond to community request for assistance in dealing with their critical community situations. The interest of the communities in focusing on the chemicals in their environment and the situation in their specific communities are evaluated. The sources of chemicals being released into the environment, the concentrations of the chemicals, exposure pathways and the associated health impacts are developed for each community based on available data from a large variety of sources that are publicly available.  Where necessary, primary environmental sampling is performed to strengthen the exposure information and fill in data gaps. The communities are involved in filling out odor and symptom logs and health surveys to identify the frequency and extent of health symptoms and chemical release events, as well as the status of the health of the community, and the frequency of odor events. Ongoing community educational programs are provided to educate and empower the communities on their toxic exposure and health impacts occurring in their communities. Based on the developed data and community input and involvement, strategies are developed to reduce chemical exposure, educate other stakeholders, communicate with the companies that are the sources of chemicals being released, reduce chemical exposure and improve the health of the communities. The methods developed and implemented can serve as models to assist communities to better understand what is occurring in their communities and how they can work to reduce their exposure and improve their health and quality of life.


Wilma Subra, President of Subra Company, provides technical assistance to citizens, across the United States and some foreign countries concerned with their environment by combining technical research and evaluation.  This information is then presented to community members so that strategies may be developed to address their local struggles.

Committed to protecting the environment and the health and safety of citizens, Wilma Subra started Subra Company, in New Iberia, Louisiana, in 1981.  Utilizing the information gained from community involvement, the needs identified are translated into policy changes at the State and Federal level through service on multi-stake holder committees.   She has  completed a seven year term as Vice-Chair of the Environmental Protection Agency National Advisory Council for Environmental Policy and Technology (NACEPT), a five year term on the National Advisory Committee of the U. S. Representative to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation and a six year term on the EPA National Environmental Justice Advisory Council (NEJAC) where she served as a member of the Cumulative Risk and Impacts Working Group of the NEJAC Council, and chaired the NEJAC Gulf Coast Hurricanes Work Group.  In 2011, she chaired the Environmental Protection Agency Technical Workshop for the Hydraulic Fracturing Study on Chemical and Analytical Methods.   She participated in the EPA Shale Technical Roundtables on Water Acquisition, Chemical Mixing, and Well Injection in November 2012.  She co-chaired the EPA Shale Analytical Chemical Methods Workshop in February 2013.  She currently serves as chair of the STRONGER Air Guidelines Work Group.

Ms. Subra’s current work is focused on the environmental impacts of various aspects of shale development, the human  health impacts associated with various specific units and activities of shale development, the development of appropriate parameters for monitoring ground water and surface water resources to detect impacts of shale development, and the development of guidelines for the regulation of state programs  dealing with shale development through the STRONGER process.  

Mrs. Subra holds degrees in Microbiology/Chemistry from the University of Southwestern Louisiana.  She received the MacArthur Fellowship “Genius” Award from the MacArthur Foundation in 1999 for helping ordinary citizens understand, cope with and combat environmental issues in their communities.  She also received the 2011 Domestic Human Rights Award from the Global Exchange for her dedication to human rights issues.


Open Table Discussion with Wilma Subra
Community Impacts of Chemical Exposures: Are Agencies and Industry Obligated to Tell?
Wednesday, February 26, 12:00-1:30pm
OpenGrounds on the Corner, 1400 University Avenue

Register >

For more information contact Lindsey Hepler
lhepler@virginia.edu, 434.243.4889.