In 2015, the Swinomish Indian Tribal Community (SITC) was impacted by an air toxic release from one of two nearby oil refineries. This experience motivated SITC members to learn more about their exposure to air toxics. On the invitation of SITC, this community-based study measured personal exposure to polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs) and conducted interviews with the volunteers to evaluate perceptions of the data and experience of participating. Non-smoking SITC members were recruited in March 2016 (N = 10) and January 2017 (N = 22) with seven volunteers participating both times. Volunteers wore a wristband passive sampler for 7 days and completed daily activity diaries. Wristbands were analyzed for 62 PAHs using gas chromatography mass spectrometry. Wilcoxon exact tests determined if the sum total PAHs (ΣPAH) differed by activity, proximity to the refineries, and time. Aggregated results were shared during community meetings, and volunteers received individual reports. Volunteers (N = 9) participated in individual interviews. All volunteers were exposed to different amounts and types of PAHs. Burning candles or using a wood stove and/or propane heating were associated with higher ΣPAH exposures. While ΣPAH was similar in both sampling periods, the composition of PAHs differed. More priority listed PAHs were detected in January (N = 17) versus March (N = 10). Among volunteers who participated in both sampling events, exposure to four PAHs significantly differed between seasons. Overall, volunteers reported that the study made them more aware of air pollution sources in their community. They also commented that the chemical nomenclature was difficult to understand, but appreciated the individual reports that allowed them to visually compare their data to the distribution of data collected in their community. For volunteers with lower exposures, these comparisons gave them relief. However, volunteers with higher exposures reported concern and several changed their behaviors to reduce their exposure to known PAH sources. This study provided an opportunity for SITC members to learn about their personal exposure to a class of air toxics within the context of their community. While the limitations of the study hindered the ability to identify sources of air toxics in the community, this activity appeared to raise awareness about ambient and indoor air pollution among the volunteers.
Keywords: PAHs; Tribal-University partnership; air pollution; air quality; air toxics; community based participatory research; environmental health education; environmental pollutants; passive sampling; silicone.