Peer-to-peer reduction of pesticide exposure to Latina youth

Institution: University of California, Berkeley
Investigator(s): Kim Harley, Ph.D. - Jose Camacho,  -
Award Cycle: 2015 (Cycle 21) Grant #: 21BB-1900 Award: $677,611
Award Type: CRC Full Research Award
Research Priorities
Etiology and Prevention>Prevention and Risk Reduction: ending the danger of breast cancer

Initial Award Abstract (2015)

Introduction: California is the leading agricultural state in the nation, with more than 185 million pounds of pesticides used each year. Many of these pesticides are probable or possible carcinogens. Others are “endocrine disruptors” that mimic or block the function of hormones such as estrogen, which is a key mechanism in the development of breast cancer.  Although 7 million pounds of potentially carcinogenic or endocrine-disrupting pesticides are used in California annually, there is little data on how women and girls in agricultural communities, many from low-income Latino farmworker families, are exposed. Information is particularly lacking for adolescent girls, who are undergoing rapid reproductive development and breast cell proliferation and may be particularly sensitive to toxic exposures.

Research Questions: What potentially carcinogenic and endocrine-disrupting pesticides are adolescent Latina girls exposed to?  Do agricultural pesticide applications in their communities increase exposure?  Are there factors and behaviors (living with farmworkers, house cleaning practices) that impact exposures?

Methods: This study will be conducted in the agricultural Salinas Valley, California. Salinas has a large farmworker population, suffers from social and environmental injustices, and offers few opportunities for youth. Since 1998, our team has collaborated on the Center for Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas (CHAMACOS), a research study following more than 300 children from in utero to adolescence to determine health effects of environmental exposures.

We propose to recruit 100 14- and 15-year-old female CHAMACOS participants. For one week, girls will be asked to wear silicone bracelets, a novel tool that measures individual pesticide exposure, carry GPS loggers to track their movements, and allow collection of a house dust sample to measure pesticide levels in their homes. Unique to California, all agricultural pesticide use is reported to the state, including the active ingredient, the amount used, and the date, time, and location of each application. Using this data, we will map pesticide use around the places each girl spends time to determine how nearby use impacts her pesticide exposure.

This study will be a collaboration with the CHAMACOS Youth Community Council (YCC), a group of Salinas high school students engaged in learning about environmental health literacy and advocacy. YCC members will be hired as UC Berkeley Research Assistants during the summer, trained in scientific methods, and involved in all phases of the study, including data collection, analysis, and interpretation of study results. The YCC will take the lead in returning study results to the community, including showing local residents how to access maps of pesticide use around their homes, and spearheading education and advocacy efforts.

Innovation. This study will generate new information about pesticide exposures to Latina teenagers in agricultural communities, a population undergoing rapid hormonal and developmental changes that, if disrupted, may lead to breast cancer later in life. Learning more about teens' pesticide exposures will support the development of successful interventions and regulations to reduce exposure. By employing youth to conduct the research, we will be strengthening community involvement while also improving the quality of the science though culturally appropriate data collection. Youth in this agricultural community, being more acculturated and comfortable with English, are a conduit for educating parents. Thus, through youth, we hope to raise community awareness about chemical exposures and breast cancer risk. Youth participation will increase their empowerment, provide summer employment and marketable skills, and cultivate their long-term interest in science, community issues, breast cancer, and the environment. Youth participation in this rigorous scientific study will help transform them into environmental health leaders in their community.

Community Involvement. The proposed study is rooted in the 17-year-old CHAMACOS community-university partnership between UC Berkeley's Center for Environmental Research and Children's Health (CERCH) and Clinica de Salud del Valle Salinas (CSVS). The CHAMACOS project is guided by a Community Advisory Board with input from the YCC, a Grower Council (made up of agriculture industry representatives), and a Farmworker Council. The YCC will be involved in all phases of this project.

Future Plans. The YCC will take the lead on returning the results to the community, developing educational materials, and identifying advocacy projects to reduce local pesticide exposure. The ultimate goals are for the YCC youth to become nvironmental health champions in their own community, and in so doing to help minimize breast cancer and other disease risk attributable to pesticide exposure.

Progress Report 1 (2016)

The California agricultural industry uses more than 185 million pounds of pesticides each year, approximately 7 million pounds of which have been identified as probable or possible carcinogens, mammary carcinogens, or endocrine disruptors. However, few studies have examined how women and girls living in agricultural communities may be exposed to these chemicals. A growing body of evidence suggests that environmental chemicals, including pesticides, may play a role in the etiology of breast cancer. Exposure during puberty, a time of rapid reproductive development and breast tissue proliferation, may represent a critical window of exposure for increasing breast cancer risk later in life. Thus, there is a strong need for more information about how adolescent girls living in California’s agricultural communities are exposed to carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting pesticides and about how to reduce their exposure.

This study contains three main aims: 1) to conduct an exposure assessment study of 100 adolescent girls living in the Salinas Valley to determine how they are exposed to carcinogenic and endocrine disrupting pesticides; 2) to empower community members by teaching them to access publically available information about nearby pesticide use; and 3) to empower local Latino high school students by teaching them scientific research methods, training them as health educators, and involving them as research assistants and collaborators in all aspects of the study.

In the first year of the project, we have enrolled 14 local high school students into our youth council and worked with them to design the research study. The study, called the COSECHA Study (which stands for Chamacos of Salinas Examining Chemicals in Homes and Agriculture and means “harvest” in Spanish) is currently underway. As of July 21, 72 girls have completed the study and 28 more are either currently participating in the study or have been scheduled. The study will conclude in the first week of August. Study participants carry GPS loggers to track proximity to agricultural fields and to wear silicone bracelets, a novel tool to assess personal pesticide exposure, for one week. At week’s end, we also collect house dust samples to measure pesticide levels in their homes. All data collection is being conducted by the youth council members who have been hired as Youth Research Assistants through UC Berkeley for the summer. In Year 2 of the project, we will send the bracelets and the dust samples to laboratories for chemical analyses, clean study data, and begin data analysis. We will continue to meet with the youth on a biweekly basis during the school year, engaging them in environmental health, community development, and college preparatory activities. We will also work with the youth to communicate the findings to the community, develop advocacy activities, and develop health education materials and mapping tools to educate community members about pesticide use.