Statistics for Action – a Great New Resource for Communities

Do you want to know how soil or air samples are taken, or how to interpret test results?  Have you thought about how to use the results you have to successfully to win your fight? There’s a great new resource available that can help answer these and many other questions about testing in your community. It’s a website called Statistics for Action and you can access its many resources for free at www.sfa.terc.edu.

Statistics for Action (SfA) is a partnership between environmental organizations and TERC, a not-for-profit based in Cambridge, MA with a mission to provide quality teaching and learning in math and science. From 2008 to 2013, TERC, Toxics Action Center, Blue Ridge Environmental Defense League and others developed and piloted materials designed to help community-based groups make better use of scientific information.

SfA offers resources to help groups and individuals:

  • Understand concepts and terms involved in environmental testing
  • Analyze data and claims critically to find the story behind the data
  • Identify risks to their own or their community’s health
  • Communicate clearly about data to decision-makers and the wider community

Included on the website are a series of guides that describe different environmental testing methods such as water quality, soil testing and air monitoring. There’s also a guide on hazardous waste cleanup and one that describes the strengths and weaknesses of the Centers for Disease Control’s (CDC) state cancer profiles including how to navigate the data on cancer trends and how to compare your local data to statewide or national data. Each guide offers advice what to look out for and how communities can get involved.

The SfA website also includes training materials and fact sheets that can be used to hold workshops on a wide range of technical topics including making sense of the data, converting between units, comparing your data to standards, mapping data, assessing risks and generating memorable messages. Each topic area begins with a great introduction called “A First Look” which provides key hints on how to understand the topic.

There are also short practical videos (1 to 5 minutes) that give a quick overview of concepts such as What’s a Liter? parts per million in water; parts per million soil: ND = Not Detected; bioaccumulation and biomagnification; Soil Contamination and Gardening and Expert Advice on Health Studies. There also are longer videos (5 to 12 minutes) that use a community story to show how different concepts link together. These topics include Sampling and Testing Contaminated Soil and Will A Health Study Prove Liability.

There’s something for everyone here whether you’re just getting started or a veteran activist of many years. Every situation involves technical and scientific information and this resource will help you navigate the technical language, understand the data better and find ways to use what data and information you have to help win your local fight. You get power not just by having information, but by knowing how to use it strategically. Check out the website and don’t hesitate to contact CHEJ if you have any questions about testing or how to interpret results.


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