Training focuses on environmental research

Environmental studies may have ethics needs

Research in environmental sciences, engineering and related fields can raise unique ethical issues that may be unfamiliar to many IRBs, particularly when it comes to community-based research.

An ethics education program funded by the National Science Foundation has created special training materials aimed directly at this type of research, focusing on issues such as cultural competence and community-based participatory research (CBPR).

Dianne Quigley, PhD, adjunct assistant professor of environmental studies at Brown University in Providence, RI, says the project, developed by the Northeast Ethics Education Partnership, applies existing ethics literature more specifically to these fields.

"Most of the literature on research ethics has come out of the medicine and public health [fields] and moving that over to environmental studies is a lot of work," Quigley says.

She says Brown has the CITI online training course in human subjects protection, but she wanted to go beyond the basic concepts in that training to focus specifically on the type of issues that her students might encounter.

"There are so many case studies in the field that are important to learn from, from each one of these disciplines," she says. "You can make it very meaningful to [students] when you relate it to their field."

So the Northeast Ethics Education Partnership, which includes Brown and the State University of New York College of Environmental Science and Forestry in Syracuse, began pulling together training materials on a variety of topics.

Topics available include:

Community-Based Research and Environmental Justice Interventions, which examines CBPR best practices, including the importance of community review boards.

Power and Privilege Issues with Culturally-Diverse Communities in Research, a look at how to develop truly collaborative participatory research by understanding the culture in which it is to be conducted.

Research Ethics Protections for Place-Based Communities and Cultural Groups, with an emphasis on group or community protections and providing information on international guidelines.

IRB Challenges in Community-Based Participatory Research on Humans Exposure to Environmental Toxicants, a look at the various issues involved in this type of research, including informed consent, community right-to know, community advisory boards and reporting back of study results.

The IRB presentation, like many of the others, cites specific case studies in areas such as biomonitoring and household exposure studies.

While the materials were developed primarily for use with graduate students, she recently has received requests by IRB coordinators asking for them for their IRBs and for research ethics training at universities.

"That's a wonderful use, we're very happy to serve that," Quigley says.

She says she still has other training topics she plans to address, including one that examines human rights histories of communities being approached for research.

She also plans to continue creating specially-crafted programs for various areas of study, such as engineering.

"I have landscape architecture, built environment, all these subfields in environmental studies," Quigley says. "They will all work in community collaborations, and they like to look at what's from their field. So we're developing PowerPoints that include some of their own field experiences."

The list of training materials that the partnership is making available can be viewed at

Quigley says those interested in using them can download a request form at that website, and email it to the partnership at