Household Exposure Study in Richmond and Bolinas, California


Over the past century, Richmond, California, has been transformed into a highly industrialized urban landscape, with the third largest oil refinery on the West Coast helping to define its silhouette. The emissions from the city’s many industries and transit lines seep into the homes—and lungs—of residents. Not surprisingly, Richmond now has the highest hospitalization rate for asthma in the county. In contrast, just twenty miles to the west, is Bolinas, a coastal town with a population one-hundredth that of Richmond—and no heavy industry.

Silent Spring Institute has joined forces with Communities for a Better Environment, an environmental health and justice organization, and researchers at Brown University and the University of California–Berkeley to study the patterns of exposure to chemical pollutants in Richmond and Bolinas. In 2006—with protocols, equipment, and training provided by Silent Spring Institute—staff members from Communities for a Better Environment collected air and dust samples both inside and outside 40 homes in the Liberty/Atchison Village area of Richmond. They also took samples from 10 homes in Bolinas.

The collaborators are now comparing the samples in the two communities in an effort to determine whether residents of Liberty/Atchison Village are at higher risk for exposure to a number of pollutants that have been implicated as hormone disruptors or as potential causes of breast cancer or respiratory disease.

The project’s specific aims are:

  • to link breast cancer advocacy and environmental justice in communities that differ in racial, ethnic, and economic character;
  • to better understand exposure to endocrine disrupting chemicals in indoor environments and the relationships between indoor measurements and outdoor sources;
  • to look for signs of impact from nearby industrial facilities and transportation corridors;
  • to report environmental monitoring data to individuals and communities in a way that supports action to protect health;
  • to develop guidelines for other researchers and communities on best practices for reporting results to people who participate in environmental monitoring.

For more information about the environmental justice aspects of the project, see Environmental Justice.