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Returning Chemical Exposure Results to Individuals and Communities

Abstract

Biomonitoring and personal exposure assessments – measurements in people’s blood, urine, breast milk, and other tissues, or in household dust, air, or other personal space – are vital tools for scientists to discover and monitor the links between environmental chemicals and health. For participants who contribute their samples, these methods generate curiosity: What did you find, was it safe, and what should I do? These motivating questions make the process of reporting back to study participants and communities a powerful opportunity to improve environmental health literacy. Decisions about what to report can be challenging, though, because scientists may not yet fully understand how the chemicals affect health, where they come from, or how to reduce exposures. This chapter explores the ethical foundations, evidence-based methods, and outcomes in environmental health studies that reported results for emerging contaminants.

Decisions about what and how to report back are guided by human research ethics and knowledge from social science and communications research. Report-back balances the Belmont Report values to avoid harm, maximize benefit, and support the autonomy of study participants, and it goes farther, to support the principles of community-based participatory research, including co-ownership of data, community problem-solving, and shared knowledge as an avenue to shared power and democratizing science. Research about environmental disasters, embodied health movements, and risk communication can guide development of ethical and effective report-back models.

Keywords

  • Biomonitoring
  • Human research ethics
  • Return of results
  • Health literacy
  • Environmental health
  • Community based participatory research
  • Digital health communications

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Brody, J.G., Brown, P., Morello-Frosch, R.A. (2019). Returning Chemical Exposure Results to Individuals and Communities. In: Finn, S., O'Fallon, L. (eds) Environmental Health Literacy. Springer, Cham. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-3-319-94108-0_6

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