While neighbors of industrial facilities have increasingly documented that they are exposed daily to low level mixes of chemicals, there remain many unknowns about the relationship between this toxic pollution and human health. Health Departments and Environmental Regulators are slow to connect the dots, moving at glacial speed and using antiquated health guidelines, while communities suffer and are told there is no health impact, without really being evaluated.

Global Community Monitor is preparing the challenge to this paradigm by launching a bold new initiative to better understand how toxic pollution finds its way into our bodies.

For a decade, Global Community Monitor has been leading the way by offering a range of air monitoring equipment so communities can document air quality in their neighborhoods. Monitoring air quality is the first step in really understanding what is in the air and what people are breathing. Whether it is toxic gases, particle matter or diesel, communities have successfully used GCM’s monitoring tools to shift the dynamics with agencies and polluting companies. While the use of citizen Bucket Brigades reduces emissions, the health impacts of long term daily exposure often remain unaddressed by the agencies and companies.

Because of these long standing gaps in knowledge about toxics and health, GCM is expanding our environmental monitoring tool kit. We are piloting a new tool for communities – instead of only testing the air, we will also start testing our bodies.

The build up of chemical compounds in the human body is called the “body burden.” GCM is planning a pilot body burden study to focus on children ages 5-12 in Berkeley near Pacific Steel Castings and West Oakland near Custom Alloy Scrap Sales. The areas around both these facilities have shown a consistent presence of heavy metals in air samples.

Testing human bodies brings another level of scrutiny, ethical considerations and paperwork. GCM is working with an Institutional Review Board (IRB) to approve participation for human subjects. GCM has spent the last year developing relationships with environmental health experts at notable institutions like University of California, San Francisco Pediatric Environmental Health Specialty Unit and Children’s Hospital Oakland.

While all this sounds very official and academic, it really goes to the core of the Bucket Brigade work – people have a fundamental right to know what is the air and how this pollution affects their health. The Bucket Brigade success has been dependent on involving impacted citizens in the science. Officially known as “Community Based Participatory Research”, for us, it’s just how the work gets done. Involving neighbors in the discussion is a key component of understanding (and eliminating) patterns of exposure.

Will this study make connections between exposure in relationship to health if you live near industry? We don’t know yet. But what we do know is that we have to pursue this information to see if there are any connections and to provide a foundation for future researchers to build on this work so that we can improve the lives of individuals.

Several organizations and institutions have used Body Burden Studies, definitely worth a review:

Stay tuned for updates on this groundbreaking work.