Community - University Exploration of Community Level Toxins
(01/2012 - Ongoing)
In 2012, a new interdisciplinary initiative at Loyola – The Healthy Homes Initiative - sought ways in which universities and communities could come together to discover new toxins, understand their effect and work with communities to reduce and eliminate negative impacts.
An important part of our work is to build stronger, ongoing connections among researchers, community organizations and residents to understand how and where toxins affect community well-being.
We joined with three community partners representing diverse communities: Centers for New Horizons; Erie Neighborhood House; and the Metropolitan Tenants’ Organization. Youth from Erie Neighborhood House participated through tours of the Chemistry labs at Loyola and an After School Matters program focused on environmental toxins.
HOW WE DID THE STUDY:
The first step towards answering this question was to determine which chemicals are impacting Chicago communities. One member of our team suggested collecting hair from barber shops and salons because hazardous metals can accumulate in hair. Hair samples can therefore tell us how much of these heavy metals community members have been exposed to.
Barber shops and salons are also community gathering places where people routinely and informally talk about a variety of issues including neighborhood well-being.
Participants were asked by barbers/stylists if they would be willing to give a small amount of hair (about a teaspoon full) and answer a brief questionnaire. Hair samples were then analyzed for the presence of metals. None of the samples gathered indicated serious individual health issues but helped us understand broader patterns of community exposure.
WHAT WE LEARNED:
- Most heavy metals (arsenic, mercury, manganese, lead) were not detected in the hair of study participants.
- All participants had high levels of calcium and sodium, which are necessary minerals in the diet. However, high levels of sodium may be linked to high blood pressure (hypertension).
- All subjects had high levels of chromium. Most types of chromium are non-toxic. Because of the type of test we did we do not know what type of Chromium participants had. More research would have to be done.
Loyola is continuing to explore ongoing relationships with our community partners to work together to understand current known and currently unknown toxic hazards in our communities. We are also building on existing community-university relationships to promote stronger communication among researchers and community residents. Researchers may be aware of toxins in the community while residents understand day-to-day routines and practices that may be related to exposure.
- P. Nyden, CURL
- J. Hilvers, CURL
- A. Segura, Graduate Fellow
- T. Neumann, CURL
- D. Van Zytveld, CURL
- D. Shoham, Stritch School of Medicine, LUC
- D. Treering, Institute of Environmental Sustainability, LUC
- D. Crumrine, Chemistry, LUC
- T. Hoang, Chemistry, LUC