Wallace Center faculty have partnered with community organizations to engage local teens in multi-year, youth participatory action research (YPAR) projects centered on sensors, wearables, and other novel research technologies for measuring environmental exposures to women, youth, and families. By using the YPAR framework, the projects strive to familiarize youth with study design and implementation, environmental justice issues, and practical applications of research findings, while also helping them develop professional skills and create meaningful change in their communities. At the same time, the youth provide insight on the health priorities and everyday realities of their communities, helping inform study design, implementation and results dissemination and creating new opportunities for researcher-community dialogue.
The CHAMACOS of Salinas Evaluating Chemicals in Home & Agriculture (COSECHA) study used chemical-monitoring silicone bracelets to assess pesticide exposure among teen girls living in the Salinas Valley, one of California’s largest agricultural communities. Study participants wore the passive-sampling bracelets for one week then returned them for chemical analysis, revealing the presence of dozens of pesticides and an array of other chemical exposures. These novel bracelets offer a promising, non-invasive and simple way to monitor personal exposure to many types of chemicals. The participants also carried GPS data loggers that will be used to look at the relationship between geographic location, such as proximity to fields, and the girls’ chemical profiles.
We are also working with RYSE, a social justice based youth center in Richmond, CA, to study air pollutants including nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide from traffic and industry in the community. Next steps are to use low-cost, real-time, air sampling devices called PurpleAirs to study particulate matter pollution. PurpleAir sensors measure particles by pulling air across a laser and counting the particulate reflections. Youth researchers plan to deploy as many as 6 of these devices in neighborhoods across the Richmond to measure pollutants in real time. Multiple factors made the city of Richmond a suitable community to focus on, including high community and municipal engagement, strong grassroots coalitions, poor air quality, a variety of high yield emission sources, and population-level risk factors to this pollution.