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Your Environment. Your Health.

CHAMACOS Youth Community Council: Latino Youth Work with Investigators to Facilitate Community-Based Environmental Health Research Projects

Kim Harley, Ph.D.

September 23, 2016

Community-based participatory research (CBPR) is a collaborative approach that involves all stakeholders – community members, organizational representatives, and researchers – as equal participants in the research process. This collaborative process is a significant component of environmental health research, and provides a means to identify topics and issues of interest to community members, collect data efficiently, translate research findings, and inform decision-making for regulatory programs and policies.

Investigators at UC Berkeley’s Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health (CERCH) have witnessed first-hand the tremendous successes of implementing CBPR principles, especially within the NIEHS-funded Center for Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas (CHAMACOS) study. CHAMACOS is a longitudinal birth cohort study that examines how chemicals and other factors in the environment affect Latino children and adults living in the agricultural area of Salinas Valley, California.

In 2010, Latino youth from local high schools were recruited for the CHAMACOS Youth Community Council (YCC) – an initiative geared towards engaging youth in the implementation and design of research, as well as building community knowledge and awareness around environmental health. Over time, members of the YCC have led a number of successful CBPR projects, including a Photovoice project, in which teens identified environmental health challenges in their community, and a healthy retail project, during which they performed interviews to determine how amenable local shoppers and store owners would be to having healthier foods displayed near the cash registers.


EDCs can block, mimic, or interfere with hormones in the body, and are found in many everyday consumer products, including plastic bottles, detergents, cosmetics, and personal care products. Compared to men, women use twice as many personal care products, and adolescent girls use even more. Exposure to EDCs during critical windows of development, such as pregnancy, early childhood, or puberty, may increase risk of adverse health effects.

Most recently, members of the YCC worked with Kim Harley, Ph.D., a reproductive epidemiologist, to perform the Health and Environmental Research in Make-Up of Salinas Adolescents (HERMOSA) Study. Funded by the California Breast Cancer Research Program, the three-year study was geared towards understanding and reducing endocrine disrupting chemical (EDC) exposures from personal care products – shampoo, perfume, make-up, and other beauty products – among Latina teenage girls living in Salinas, California.

A total of 100 adolescent girls were enrolled in the HERMOSA Study, were educated about EDCs, and were allowed to take home a week’s worth of low-chemical alternative personal care products. Pre- and post-analysis of the girls’ urine samples over a three-day trial period showed that levels of EDCs, such as phthalates and parabens, dropped significantly. These results suggest that using shampoos, lotions, and cosmetics that are labelled as free of these EDCs can reduce girls’ personal exposure, and thereby potentially reduce their risk for adverse health outcomes.

CHAMACOS YCC group photo

The picture above shows members of the YCC involved in the HERMOSA Study. Since 2010, the YCC has had between 12 and 18 active members, with new students joining the council as older students graduate from high school and move on. Encouraging and preparing students for college has been an important side effect of the YCC. Five former YCC members, all first-generation college students, are currently enrolled at UC Berkeley.
(Photo courtesy of Kim Harley, Ph.D.)

“Members of the YCC led this study, and were really involved from beginning to end,” Harley stated. “They worked with us to design and implement the study – this included recruiting study participants, developing questionnaires, performing interviews, testing alternative personal care products, collecting urine samples, interpreting data, and reporting-back results.”

The YCC has been very involved in educating the community and general public about results from the HERMOSA Study. For example, some members of the YCC have been interviewed about the study on local television news, and others have given presentations at scientific meetings and conferences. They even helped develop educational materials to facilitate wiser consumer choices about cosmetic and personal care products that they and their families use.

They have also designed their own projects to advocate for reducing exposures to EDCs, by creating petitions on media platforms, writing letters to CEOs of local drug store companies, and presenting scientific data to local and state legislators and regulators, such as those within the California Consumer Product Safety Commission.

Moving Forward with New Projects: The COSEHCA Study

Kim Harley, Ph.D.

Kim Harley, Ph.D., is lead principal investigator of the HERMOSA Study and associate director of the UC Berkeley Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health (CERCH).
(Photo courtesy of Kim Harley, Ph.D.)

In early 2016, Harley and colleagues received funding from the California Breast Cancer Research Program for a new project, called the CHAMACOS of Salinas Evaluating Chemicals in Homes and Agriculture (COSECHA) Study, which explores the effects of endocrine-disrupting and carcinogenic pesticides that are applied in the community.

As with all the other YCC projects, YCC members are involved in the design and implementation of the COSECHA study, and are working with Harley and colleagues to collect exposure data from 100 adolescent girls in the community. The girls participated in the study for a week, during which they wore silicone wristbands to measure their personal exposure to chemicals. Other measures of chemical exposure will be obtained via urine samples, residential dust samples, and mapping proximity to agricultural fields near the girls’ homes.

Harley anticipates that results from the COSECHA Study will be available within the next year, and that the YCC will be engaged in educating and reporting-back results to the community, similar to what was done for the HERMOSA Study. “We want to work with the YCC to determine how we can use this information to influence change in their community,” Harley stated.

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