Brown University School will be investigating the environmental health impacts of living near illegal dumping sites in Mississippi

Published 12:16 pm Wednesday, October 11, 2023

Dr. Erica Walker is the RGSS Assistant Professor of Epidemiology and Founder of Community Noise Lab at the Brown University School of Public Health. She was recently awarded a $1.1 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation. Community Noise Lab will measure air, sound, water, soil, and visual quality at and around illegal dumping sites across Mississippi.

Dr. Walker was born and raised in Mississippi and grew up in a community that housed an open dumping site, filled with items ranging from old washing machines and couches to chemicals and car batteries. She reflects, “Growing up, it was just another place for us to play. As an adult, I see how dangerous this site was to the community’s environmental health.”

With funding from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, Dr. Walker and her team will focus on illegal dumping sites in three Mississippi counties. Community Noise Lab will measure air pollution, water pollution, noise pollution, visual pollution (litter counts, etc.), and soil quality. They will also establish an illegal dumping site cataloging system that will be open and accessible to the public. Dr. Walker explains, “This system will holistically catalog the illegal dumping sites in these communities so that residents know exactly what’s in them.”

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Additionally, Community Noise Lab will enroll children living nearby into the Mississippi Adolescent Environmental Health Study (MAEHS). The goal is to understand how living near illegal dumping sites may impact the health of Mississippi’s most vulnerable residents—its children. Children between the ages of 10 and 17 can enroll in the health study and earn up to $120 for their participation. Dr. Walker emphasizes, “Illegal dumping sites are more than just complaints logged into a system. At best, they are an eye sore. At worst, they could be polluting the surrounding environment and negatively impacting community health.”

Dr. Walker is working closely with Dr. Cristina Nica, a Research Scientist at Community Noise Lab’s Mississippi office. Dr. Nica holds a Ph.D. and a master’s degree in environmental science from Jackson State University. Together, they will train and work with students from local high schools and community colleges to carry out this work. These students will come from Dr. Walker’s two research programs: Mississippi Environmental Scholars Program and the Summer of Science Research Series. Both programs hire and train students to conduct field work, analyze data, and write for academic publications. Dr. Nica underscores, “Traditionally the main goal of a scientist is to build knowledge and understanding. In my opinion, and especially in Mississippi, we should also be thinking about training the next generations of scientists.”

Dr. Walker hopes that this research will shed light on how illegal dumping sites impact the surrounding community, create an accessible accountability system for illegal dumping, and train the next generation of Mississippi-based scholars to continue the work.

For more information about this research project, you can reach out to Dr. Erica Walker via Twitter @noiseandthecity and @community_noise and via email at Community Noise Lab’s website can be accessed at Dr. Cristina Nica can be reached at