Tonawanda News

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October 21, 2013

NT resident, professor earns grant to study environment

Tonawanda News — North Tonawanda native Erin Robinson, associate professor of sociology and director of environmental studies at Canisius College, said that as a child she loved playing in Gratwick Park so much that at 3 years old, when asked what she wanted for her birthday, she told her mother she wanted a day to run around in the open green space by the river.

Later she, her mother and other North Tonawandans would become aware that the former landfill site was used for industrial waste from Occidental Chemical and Durez, and would later be remediated in 2001.

Once she was in her teens, Robinson said she heard about the Love Canal disaster, but recalled it sounded a little like the name of an amusement park; it later became a sort of urban legend for her and her friends, who would go driving around in the abandoned neighborhood.

Robinson was acutely aware of the environmental hazards in and around the communities where she grew up and as a child she became interested in organizations like Greenpeace and even began her own environmental organization during high school. 

“My parents introduced me to issues like that,” she said. “I remember talking about acid rain as a problem in one of my junior high social studies classes, for instance.”

Perhaps that childhood was what fed her interest to eventually study sociology and apply that discipline to environmental issues. She, together with a team of three other researchers from the University at Buffalo, was just awarded a $896,000 grant from the National Science Foundation INSPIRE program to study the impact of groundwater remediation for communities facing environmental contamination.

The grant, which was awarded last month, is for the three-year project titled “Advancing Groundwater Restoration Through Qualitative Analysis: What Practitioners and Stakeholders Care About and Why It Matters.” 

The project takes a unique approach to studying what would normally be a very scientific-driven topic. The four-person team is interdisciplinary. Robinson brings a sociological perspective, Kenneth Shockely looks at philosophy, Alan Rabideau environmental engineering and Michael Frisch history.

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