Health impact of fire on local produce. Call for sites and volunteers!

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Citizen Science Research on the Health Impacts of Air Pollution on Local Produce in Sonoma and Napa Counties

To get involved, please contact:

Vanessa Raditz, MPH  –

Air quality in Sonoma and Napa counties has been significantly impacted by the ongoing fires in the region. Local farms have played a very large and important role in food relief efforts immediately following the start of the fires and the mass evacuations. Many farmers and others in the community are concerned about how the air pollution might be impacting the produce.

Researchers and community organizations are collaborating to collect samples from local farms of washed and unwashed produce (focusing on kale, collards, chard, and lettuce), in order to shed more light on these questions. This research is in collaboration with Professor Asa Bradman at University of California, Berkeley.

We will be examining:

  • What air pollutants have been deposited on leaves on local farms in the region?

  • Can these pollutants be washed off, or are they absorbed into plant tissue?

  • What concentrations of these air pollutants might be ingested by those eating local produce?

Based on these samples and lab results, we will be able to explore questions such as:

  • How does the risk from ingesting this pollution in produce compare to the risk from inhaling the pollution in the air?

  • How does this risk compare to the risk of health impacts from conventionally-grown produce and processed foods, which are also highly exposed to a different set of chemical contaminants?

  • What are effective methods for evaluating the health benefit of locally-grown fresh produce and for cumulatively examining the risks and benefits?

We are seeking farms and gardens where we can take produce samples, and we are seeking volunteers to help us collect these samples.

As a citizen science project, this study depends on you, and in return, we are committed to staying in touch with you about the results from this study and next steps we can take as a community.

In order for our results to be useful, we need to have a standardized way of taking all of our samples. We will be training volunteers in these standardized methods during volunteer orientations.

Please attend a volunteer orientation and training at one of these times:

  • Saturday 10/21 – 10am

  • Saturday 10/21 – 2pm

  • Sunday 10/22 – 10am

Locations are TBD – to get on the list for location announcements, please contact Vanessa Raditz,

If you have a site that you would like tested, and which you would like to offer as a volunteer site, please contact Vanessa as soon as possible.


Background research for this study was conducted on the health impacts of Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (PAHs) from traffic-related air pollution on lettuce grown in urban agriculture. This unpublished literature review found that:

  • Some PAHs can be absorbed into plant tissue, and so cannot be simply washed off the surface of the leaf

  • The health risk from eating these PAHs is a small proportion of the health impact from breathing them, and it is far below the EPA’s level of concern for lifetime cancer risk

  • It is possible that the health benefit of eating the vitamins and nutrients in green leafy vegetables might outweigh that negligible negative impact

  • There is not enough research available on the cumulative impacts of air pollution on produce to make any solid conclusions about the health impacts

The full text of this research is available upon request. This background risk assessment research was completed for a Masters of Public Health final project in the Spring of 2016 at UC Berkeley. Please note that this was only on one class of chemicals amidst the hundreds of chemicals that are currently circulating in Sonoma and Napa counties due to the wildfires, and only one type of produce. It is precisely for that reason that more research is needed at this time.

More information is available upon request.

Vanessa Raditz, MPH
Master of Public Health
Environmental Health Sciences
UC Berkeley, 2016

5 Replies to “Health impact of fire on local produce. Call for sites and volunteers!”

  1. Vanessa

    Thank you for doing this. I’m really concerned about soil health as well. Are there certain plants that absorb more pollutants that we should avoid for eating? Are there certain plants we should absolutely plant to help remediate soil? And then what? Take out the plants?

  2. Sheina Curtis

    I cannot volunteer tomorrow but am very interested in the results of the study. Can you can add me to your email list if you share the results?

  3. Colby Eierman

    Will you be posting updates here? I’d love to be kept informed on how this effort is progressing.


  4. Kaleigh Spollen

    Hi Colby,

    Thanks for your interest! Please note that Vanessa Raditz is directing this research project. Her information is available through the post above and you should reach out to her directly for specific questions. We will try to keep our community updated on the projects moving forward. Be sure to check out our Facebook page, as well, which is updated more regularly.

    Thank you!
    The Bounty Team

  5. Kaleigh Spollen

    Hi Sheina,

    Thank you for your interest! Keep an eye on our Facebook page, which is updated more regularly. If you have specific questions, you can reach out to Vanessa Raditz, who is coordinating the study, directly.

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