Using CBPR to Promote Environmental Justice in Wilmington,CA

Institution: University of California, Los Angeles
Investigator(s): Annette Maxwell, DrPH - Jesse Marquez,  -
Award Cycle: 2013 (Cycle 19) Grant #: 19AB-2200 Award: $93,750
Award Type: CRC Pilot Award
Research Priorities
Etiology and Prevention>Etiology: the role of environment and lifestyle

This is a collaboration with: 19AB-2201 -

Initial Award Abstract (2013)

Low-income communities and communities of color disproportionately bear health and environmental burdens resulting from development patterns. Wilmington, a district of Los Angeles with industry as its primary economic activity, is a prime example of such a community. It is the only environmental justice community in the State of California that is surrounded by four major oil refineries, bordered by two major international trade ports (Ports of Los Angeles and Long Beach) and three major freeways among other toxic industries and freight transportation corridors. Wilmington is primarily a low income, high poverty, high secondary school drop-out rate and predominantly Spanish-speaking community. The population of about 55,000 is over 85% Latino. The community is concerned about benzene emissions from oil refineries. Benzene has been shown to cause mammary gland tumors in animal studies and is classified as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer. The Coalition For A Safe Environment (CFASE), a community based non-profit environmental justice, public health, and public safety advocacy organization in Wilmington, and the Center for Cancer Prevention and Control Research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) have joined forces to launch a research program with two long-term goals: (1) to study the effect of benzene on the incidence of breast cancer; and (2) to promote environmental justice in Wilmington, California.

Questions or hypotheses:
The pilot CRC represents one of the first research projects in a vulnerable community with a focus on breast health and environmental justice. We will test assessment protocols, community trainings, and strategies to disseminate our findings for future large scale studies. We will collect pilot data on benzene exposure in Wilmington that can be compared to density maps of breast cancer cases from the Los Angeles Cancer Registry and/or compared to benzene exposure in other communities in future studies. We will collect pilot data on how to train community members so they can advocate for their community.

General methodology:
CFASE and UCLA will train community members on breast cancer and its risk factors, including lifestyle and environmental factors, how to assess benzene in their community, and how to advocate for their community. Trained community members will measure benzene in the vicinity of one oil refinery. This will provide pilot data on the effect of weather conditions on benzene levels at various locations and on the dispersion of benzene with increasing distance to emission sources, and the reliability of measures from trained community volunteers. It will also provide data on local benzene exposures that can be used to advocate for policies, programs, and progress.

Innovative elements:
Innovative aspects of this proposal are (1) the focus on an environmental risk factor for breast cancer that is understudied; (2) the strong focus on capacity building in a vulnerable community; (3) our dual approach that could serve as a case study for other communities: The study advances science by characterizing benzene exposure and by evaluating training programs designed for community members. At the same time, the community benefits from training to measure chemicals in the air using scientifically rigorous methods and from gaining a better understanding of breast cancer risk factors. Community members also receive coaching on how to advocate for limiting or mitigating exposure to benzene, using the data they collected. The emphasis on social justice and advocacy for policy changes adds value to this project.

Community involvement:
The proposal was jointly developed by CFASE and UCLA. The community will stay involved and informed about the project through updates at quarterly community meetings, through participation in trainings, and by measuring benzene at various locations. An Advisory Committee will review all study protocols and assessment forms, advise on all activities throughout the study, and assist in interpretation and dissemination of the findings. CFASE is planning to use the benzene data that will be collected to advocate for policies, programs, and progress.

Future Plans:
Future research may focus on mapping breast cancer cases from the California Cancer Registry and comparing breast cancer density maps in Wilmington to benzene exposure maps; on establishing long-term benzene monitoring stations in Wilmington and comparison communities that will provide exposure data for future studies; and/or on systematically evaluating strategies to train and activate community members to advocate for environmental justice.




Progress Report 2 (2015)

Benzene, a chemical that is classified as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, is emitted into the outdoor air through cigarette smoke, industrial emission by refineries and coke oven plants, gasoline fumes, and vehicle emissions. The Coalition For A Safe Environment (CFASE), a community based non-profit environmental justice, public health, and public safety advocacy organization in Wilmington, and the Center for Cancer Prevention and Control Research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) are conducting a pilot study to test protocols for conducting community trainings on cancer, for measuring benzene exposure, and strategies to disseminate our findings to build the foundation for future large scale studies on benzene exposure.

AIM 1: Train community members on breast cancer and its risk factors, including lifestyle and environmental factors, how to assess benzene in their community, and how to advocate for their community.

Progress to date: We developed slides and pre- and post-tests for community workshops on “Cancer 101” in English and Spanish and obtained IRB approval for the workshop. In August 2014, we conducted our second Spanish language Cancer 101 workshop that focused on Women’s Cancers at the Wilmington Senior Citizen Center with 26 attendees. The audience was engaged and asked many questions. The majority of participants indicated that they would share the information they had received with friends and family (96%), make an attempt to learn about their family history of cancer (100%), engage in regular physical activity (96%) and pay attention to changes in their body (88%).

AIM 2: Measure benzene in the outdoor air in the vicinity of one oil refinery and compare measures to those reported by the refinery.

Progress to date: We have rented canisters from LA Testing, South Pasadena, to collect air samples for benzene assessments. UCLA has developed a short training video demonstrating how the canisters have to be handled. In addition, CFASE has prepared a pictorial guide showing all steps involved in handling the canisters. There was a slight delay in starting benzene assessments due to the winter holiday. However, we are prepared to complete aim 2 benzene assessments during the 12 month extension.




Progress Report 3 (2016)

This pilot study represents one of the first attempts to train community members living in close proximity to an oil refinery to measure benzene in the outdoor air. Benzene, a chemical that is classified as a human carcinogen by the International Agency for Research on Cancer, is emitted into the outdoor air through industrial emission by refineries and coke oven plants, gasoline fumes, vehicle emissions and cigarette smoke. The Coalition For A Safe Environment (CFASE), Wilmington and the Center for Cancer Prevention and Control Research at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) conducted this pilot study to test protocols for conducting community trainings on cancer and for measuring benzene exposure to build the foundation for future large scale studies on benzene exposure. We conducted two community trainings on cancer in community venues and trainings for individual households near ConocoPhillips Oil Refinery (fenceline, 100m, 200m, 500m, 1,000m, 2,000m distance). Community members took a total of 12 air samples, 6 at day time and 6 at night time. The concentrations of benzene and total VOCs were low and in ppbv range. Benzene was found in three out of five night samples at 0, 500 meters, and 2000 meters from the refinery at low levels of 0.86, 0.80, and 1.3 ppbv, respectively. There was no detectable benzene found in all six day- time Summar canister samples.

We learned valuable lessons about working with community members as air sample collectors:


• It is much more difficult and time consuming to recruit community members to participate in an air sampling study if they are responsible for conducting the air sampling themselves rather than providing access for a university or governmental regulatory agency to operate the sampling units or instruments.
• Per protocol, all samples had to be taken at the same time at various distances from the refinery. If one household had to back out due to unforeseen events, rescheduling of all households led to long delays.
• In future data collection efforts, we need to implement a tracking system for canisters, so no canisters get lost.
• For future data collection efforts by community members, trainings need to be repeated if there is a lapse of time between training and operating the canisters and/or site visits need to take place.
• Based on our observations, female household members were more reliable than males and took the lead in operating the canisters.
• We found that it was necessary to train two adults per household to have back-up.
• We found that it was more feasible to provide trainings to individual households than attempting to arrange a training that all households can attend.

Findings will inform future studies that include the collection of air samples by community members.