Efficacy of a school-based intervention to bring awareness about PCB contamination and exposure avoidance in Guánica, Puerto Rico
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Production of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) was banned in the US in 1970s. However, susceptible populations especially those living at/around the contaminated sites continue to be at a risk of elevated exposure to PCBs because information about the contamination (of the environment) and its associated health risks may not reach these populations. A recent study found the second highest concentration of PCBs ever recorded worldwide in the sediment samples of Guánica Bay, located in the southwestern part of Puerto Rico. PCB levels in fish from the bay were also higher than the tolerance limit of Food and Drug Administration (FDA), which motivated this research to initiate a school-based campaign to bring community awareness about the contamination of the bay and engage students in preventive strategies to reduce their exposure to PCBs. Surveys before and after the campaign were administered in the high school as well as in the communities of Guánica Municipality. The analyses of the survey data suggest that the campaign was effective in bringing awareness among schoolchildren (6.6% before versus 69.7% after the campaign; χ2 ~ 60.4; p < 0.001) and strategies to reduce PCB exposure and its toxicity such as removing adipose tissues from seafood/fish and exercising. In the community, there was a significant decline in the consumption of seafood/fish harvested from the bay after the campaign (54.6% before versus 33% after the campaign; χ2 ~ 10.85; p < 0.001). However, the awareness did not result in significant behavior modifications among schoolchildren, such as avoiding swimming and fishing in the bay. Given hazardous levels of PCBs and some students use the bay for various purposes, including one-third of community members still use seafood/fish harvested from the bay, attention of different stakeholders is warranted for clean-up efforts as well as engaging children and communities in PCB exposure avoidance strategies.
KeywordsPCB Community exposure School-based awareness Exposure avoidance Impoverished community
The authors would like to thank the members of Guánica High School for their support and contribution in the development and implementation of the awareness campaign.
This research, in parts, was supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health (Grant No. ES029765), and the Springboard Scholarship from the University of Miami Department of Public Health Sciences.
Compliance with ethical standards
The Institutional Review Board of the University of Miami approved this project (IRB approval no. 20150012).
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