Learn more about the CHAMACOS Youth Council’s approach to environmental health and justice research below!
The CHAMACOS Youth Council (YC) is a group of young people in the city of Salinas, California devoted to learning about and addressing issues of environmental health and justice. The YC is a program of the Center for the Health Assessment of Mothers and Children of Salinas (CHAMACOS), a joint program of UC Berkeley and Clinica de Salud del Valle de Salinas, researching how pesticides and other chemical exposures impact health in this farmworker community. Started in 2009, the YC has been integrally involved in the development, design, and implementation of several YPAR projects, including most recently the 2013 HERMOSA Study of teenage girls’ exposure to chemicals in makeup.
With supervision from study staff, the YC enrolled 100 Latina girls living in Salinas in the Health and Environmental Research in Make-up Of Salinas Adolescents (HERMOSA) study. The youth conducted interviews with participants about the cosmetics and personal care products they used, took urine samples, gave them low-chemical alternative products to use for three days, and then obtained follow-up urine samples. The study helped show that using alternative personal care products could reduce levels of potentially harmful chemicals in participant’s systems, some of which have been associated with hormone disruption, cancer, infertility, and child-developmental harm. Post-intervention, a 25%-45% drop in levels of several potentially harmful chemicals was found. Phthalate concentrations dropped by 28%, parabens by 44%, oxybenzone by 35% and triclosan by 36%. Upon completion of data analysis, HERMOSA youth researchers turned their attention to community organizing, educating fellow teens on chemicals in personal care products, and advocating for policy change.
Membership in the YC has changed as youth graduate from high school and younger students join. At this point, the youth that conducted the HERMOSA Study have all moved on to college or work. Now, a new group of students are in the process of conducting their own YPAR project, the COSECHA Study (CHAMACOS of Salinas Evaluating Chemicals in Homes and Agriculture), that examines teens’ exposure to pesticides.
This summer, current YC members sat down to interview YC graduates. Written by youth currently enrolled in Salinas high schools, the following report synthesizes a dialogue between veteran HERMOSA youth researchers and a fresh cohort of youth researchers immersed in COSECHA research.
Q: HERMOSA is part of a larger youth centered social engagement group called a Youth Council. What does that mean?
An interview with former Youth Council (YC) members Carlos and Irene Vera left COSECHA youth fascinated by information on both personal and professional experiences. Firstly, former YC members enlightened the current team by defining a YC, explaining its ground rules and values. A YC is a local group of youth designed to actively address issues within a community and work together to reach healthy and effective solutions. It starts with team building, then transitions to education, strategizing, and action. Dozens of Salinas youth have been in the YC at one time or another.
Q: How does the Youth Council relate to studies like HERMOSA?
As important as it was, the HERMOSA study was one of a several past studies that members of the YC worked on, with more studies to come. Rather than being project specific, Carlos defined the YC as “a way to get together and talk about the problems in our community; to make them better.” His sister Irene added, “it is a responsibility that comes together as a positive outcome in our community that many don’t know is being made.”
Q: What does it take for youth to make change in their community?
Previous answers led to further discussion on the importance of setting personal and community ground rules, highlighting the importance of determination, respectfulness, and maintaining confidentiality at all times. Being a YC member requires dedication, organization, punctuality, and an interest in helping the community. YC members are also expected to participate fully in trainings on public speaking and teamwork skills that help them interact with the community to solve problems.
Q: What were some obstacles and personal challenges?
Our guests moved on to talk about their personal experiences working on the HERMOSA study, stating that their time in the study was very rewarding but had some disadvantages. The study took up a lot of their personal schedule, and many had to drop other activities to work on HERMOSA. Although not a large dilemma, it was understandable that some youth did not want to give up their evenings to do scientific research. These obstacles did not stop Carlos and Irene, motivating them instead to succeed and advance to finish the study.
Q: How did you benefit from participating?
Both YC members agreed that they loved their time in HERMOSA. “You can see what you did, and even though some people don’t realize it, it’s the small things that matter,” said Carlos. The study on personal care products strongly indicated reduced levels of certain chemical exposures, which may be harmful to humans. Irene added, “we focused on certain chemicals, but at the same time we’re aware that there are actually thousands of chemicals that we come in contact with, so it was good to learn.” Moving forward, the current YC cohort gained invaluable information from the previous cohort.
As added benefits, YC members get to network with experts from UC Berkeley and CSVS, get professional training, receive letters of recommendation upon request, are eligible for paid employment working on projects (like HERMOSA), and get life guidance. The vast majority of YC grads have gone on to college, many at UCs.
Q: What will the next YC project be?
Experiential knowledge from the HERMOSA cohort will be a great asset as the current YC works on its new project, the Chamacos Of Salinas Evaluating Chemicals in Homes & Agriculture (COSECHA) Study, investigating the degree to which teen girls in the Salinas Valley may be exposed to potentially endocrine disrupting pesticides. One hundred girls will be enrolled, receive a GPS device and a special silicon bracelet to wear for a week to passively absorbs chemicals from the environment, and answer a questionnaire. Participants will also provide a urine sample, and two types of dust samples will be collected from their home and nearby fields and crops. In concert with HERMOSA, this study will help researchers better understand the multiple chemical exposures adolescent girls in Salinas undergo and potentially expand research on the cumulative impact of these chemicals.
The Principal Investigators on this study are Dr. Kim Harley and Ms. Kimberly Parra, and the Youth Coordinator is James Nolan. For more information, please visit http://cerch.org/research-programs/hermosastudy/. If you have any specific questions, you may contact Dr. Harley at firstname.lastname@example.org or James at email@example.com.