Since 2017, assistant professor of Architecture Angela Person has co-led the Environmental Sustainability Working Group (ESWG) at OU with Dr. Randy Peppler, of OU Geography. Four of the ESWG’s students recently presented during the University of Oklahoma’s 33rd Annual Undergraduate Research day on Friday, April 9th, 2021. Two of their students, Brooke Foster and Julie Bahr, took home top prizes among the more than 100 presenters.

International and Area Studies senior Brooke Foster, who has been working with Person and Peppler since 2019, won the Grand Prize for her project “Expressions of Place Attachment, Mobility, and Justice related to the Tar Creek Superfund Site.”

Tar Creek is a United States EPA Superfund Site located in northeastern Oklahoma. Known as the Tri-State Mining District, lead and zinc operations supplied ammunition for both World Wars. During the mining operations,[PA1]  enormous piles of hazardous waste, known as “chat,” were left behind. Over the years, lead poisoning caused neurological damage and unusual rates of kidney and cardiovascular disease. The mining carved out much of the subsurface, leading to sinkholes. Ultimately, buyouts were offered to local residents. Despite knowledge of the risks, some people resisted leaving because they were attached to their home place. In-depth interviews with individuals were conducted to capture past and present lived experiences of the area. This research draws on the interviews to explore themes of place attachment, mobility, and environmental justice in relation to hazards in and around the Tar Creek Superfund Site.

Abstract of Brooke Foster’s award-winning project

Environmental Sustainability senior Julie Bahr, who has been working with Person since December 2020, earned an Honorable Mention for her project entitled “Hidden Water Infrastructure and Environmental Justice.” The project looks at three case studies in Oklahoma and Texas, including Sanitary Sewer Overflows, natural disasters which exacerbate access to potable water, and incarcerated individuals’ relationships to water. 

Other ESWG members who presented their work included Environmental Sustainability senior Gabby Bittner, who presented an “Exploration of Greenwashing in the Beauty Industry,” and sophomore Environmental Studies student Kathlyn Dannewald, who shared “Oklahoma City Park Access and Environmentalism within an Environmental Justice and
Equity Context.”

About the ESWG

In its first four years, the Environmental Sustainability Working Group (ESWG) has been awarded over $20,000 in support of over a dozen undergraduate research opportunities exploring the intersection of environment and society. Learn more here: https://envlab.wordpress.com/team/