Knights Landing Environmental Health Project: Two Years of Responsive Community Health

Skye Kelty and Alfonso Aranda

Knights Landing (KL) is an unincorporated agricultural town located 25 miles north of the University of Calfornia, Davis (UC Davis). Like many unincorporated agricultural communities in the California Central Valley, KL faces a number of challenges including transportation, access to medical care, access to healthy foods and water, immigration, poverty, housing shortages and environmental pollution. About three years ago, KL residents reported concerns about a high cancer risk in their community to UC Davis Chicana/o Studies professor, Natalia Deeb-Sossa, PhD. As a result, Dr. Deeb-Sossa recruited PhD students to address community needs through their research in cancer prevention and environmental justice: Skye Kelty, PhD candidate in Pharmacology and Toxicology mentored by Dr. Laura Van Winkle, and Alfonso Aranda, PhD student in Environmental Health Geography mentored by Dr. Jonathan London.

The Knights Landing Environmental Health Project was founded in 2016 by Skye and Alfonso as a community-based participatory research project. With the procurement of flexible funding from the NIEHS’ UC Davis Environmental Health Science Center, together with IRB approval, the research team expanded to include 5 promotoras (health advocates) who would be compensated for their time. Since then, promotoras have been involved in hypothesis development, research design, data collection and analysis, and dissemination of results.

Along the way we recruited Sevana Manukian, an MPH student, to lead an Environmental Health Survey together with promotoras. Survey results indicate agricultural pesticide exposures on the job and in homes adjacent to fields; high sun exposure at work; water pollution; lack of fruits and vegetables; a high rate of smoking; truck traffic; and a general lack of cancer screening opportunities.

Alfonso’s dissertation research is focused documenting community-level perceptions of environmental health risks through the administration of promotora-led, exploratory focus group sessions (n=6) and individual photovoice projects (n=8). The goal of this phase is to qualitatively assess community health status, environmental health mediators, and barriers to healthcare among residents. Additionally, results of this phase will be used to identify variables for quantitative development through environmental sampling (see below).

Skye’s dissertation is following up on survey data and qualitative results by measuring levels of carcinogens in tap water from private wells and household dust from homes in KL. Skye will compare KL results to a neighboring, primarily-organic farming community: Capay Valley. Additionally, Skye is developing research to address high tobacco smoking rates in KL (~3 times the county rate). Skye plans to document exposures to carcinogens for tobacco-smokers, cannabis-smokers, and folks exposed to second-hand smoke.

As of now our research has moved slowly and deliberately especially because we are funded primarily by a patchwork of ~$2,000 grants. However, the KL Environmental Health Project and its collaborators are committed to working with community partners in a sustainable and responsive manner.  In 2018, for example, the team is focused on responding to other community concerns while we complete our initial studies of carcinogen exposures. The KL Environmental Health Project is working with the HATCH Feminist Art and Science Research Shop to document mental/emotional health concerns in the community. We hope documentation will allow our partners at the student-run UC Davis Knights Landing One Health Center and other community organizations to develop culturally-humble, affordable, and structurally-competent mental/emotional health services for the Knights Landing community.

Into the future, we hope to continue a sustainable research collaboration with Knights Landing as we move from documentation of challenges into implementation of solutions.

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