The Richmond Youth Air Quality Initiative, or RYAQI, found disproportionate exposure to air and noise pollution for Black residents in Richmond, California.
Using a Youth Participatory Action Research model, the RYAQI is a project created by the Center for Environmental Research and Children’s Health in collaboration with the RYSE Center and the Bay Area Air Quality Management District experts.
“We chose to use a youth participatory action research model to leverage Richmond youth’s experiential expertise and local knowledge while building capacity among the next generation of environmental health leaders,” said study co-author and campus alumnus James Nolan in an email.
The study was published Jan. 11, 2021, after four years of planning and research, according to Nolan. To prepare for the research, RYAQI researchers participated in environmental health literacy curriculums and quizzes prior to conducting their field study. The team later selected 12 sampling sites based on information taught by the curriculum.
Nolan added that the youth researchers entered the project with a diverse array of information and background. Their discussions challenged them to think broadly about how to develop rigorous and detailed study protocols and the impacts society has on health.
“One memorable moment that stands out was the sheer enthusiasm youth brought to leading an air quality inequity workshop during a regional Youth for the Environment and Sustainability (YES) Conference,” Nolan said in an email. “Because of the energy they brought, their workshop was exceedingly well attended.”
The paper identified four air pollutants — particulate matter, ozone, nitrogen dioxide and sulfur dioxide — and dedicated the majority of the research towards nitrogen dioxide, which is a toxin, and sulfur dioxide concentrations.
The researcher found concentrations of nitrogen dioxide are highest in census areas with the highest non-Hispanic Black populations. Nolan noted the research could be “extremely important” as it represents the health inequity and environmental racism in Richmond.
“While concerns with regards to structural racism emerge, so do opportunities for justice,” Noland said in an email. “Studies such as these highlight these issues and contribute to the potential betterment of these spaces and empowerment of communities through community-based research methods.”
A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Youth Participatory Action Research found disproportionate exposure to air and noise pollution for Black residents in Richmond, California. In fact, the Richmond Youth Air Quality Initiative found this.