Recent studies

Neighborhood oil production associated with higher preterm birth risk in the San Joaquin Valley

Approximately 17 million U.S. residents have active oil and gas wells in their neighborhoods, including over 2 million Californians. Building on work from other states, we investigated whether pregnant people who live near oil wells in the San Joaquin Valley, California, had higher risk of preterm birth, a leading driver of infant mortality. In a study published in Environmental Epidemiology, we found that exposure to oil wells during pregnancy was associated with risk of preterm birth, with higher risk for mothers who were Black or Hispanic or who had not gone to college.

Oil production emits harmful concentrations of air pollution

In work published in Science of the Total Environment, we found that drilling new wells and increasing oil production emitted harmful concentrations of fine particulates (PM₂.₅), ozone, and other pollutants. This finding could explain, in part, why living near wells would increase preterm birth risk as we found in earlier work. Using data from the network of high-quality air monitors across California, we isolated the effect of oil and gas production on air quality using daily changes in wind direction. We controlled for unrelated factors that vary from place-to-place and year-to-year, as well as weather and other pollution sources like wildfire. We found higher concentrations of fine particulates, ozone, and other air pollutants as far as 2.5 miles (4 km) downwind of oil wells.

Social factors influence decisions to respond to wildfire smoke

Breathing wildfire smoke affects many aspects of health, and taking action to reduce smoke exposure can be beneficial. In a study published in Climate Risk Management, we found that during wildfires, the way Californians perceive of and respond to the risks from wildfire smoke was shaped by their own senses and information from their social networks. Psychological factors and social processes in their communities influenced whether and how they took action to protect themselves from smoke.

Women of reproductive age in the Peruvian Amazon had high mercury exposure

I also study how mercury pollution from artisanal gold mining affects the health of communities in the Peruvian Amazon. In a paper published in Environmental Research, we found widespread mercury exposure among women of reproductive age in Madre de Dios, Peru, one of the most intensively-mined areas in the Amazon Basin. Women of reproductive age are a group of concern because eating foods contaminated with mercury, such as fish from mined rivers, can cause permanent harm to fetuses and nursing infants in addition to harm to the women themselves. Over one-fourth of study participants said they ate fish species that were known to have high mercury contamination. Many of them said they were worried about mercury, but most did not have specific knowledge about how it affects their health.

Current work

  • How neighborhood oil production affects reproductive and respiratory health
  • How racially and socioeconomically marginalized communities came to have disproportionately high exposure to oil wells
  • How wildfire smoke affects maternal and infant health
  • How Californians protect themselves and others from wildfire smoke
  • How mercury pollution affects indigenous communities and how it cycles through the environment in the Peruvian Amazon

If you have questions about my work or would like to collaborate, please reach out to me by email at djxgonz@berkeley.edu. I welcome messages from students looking to get research experience applying geospatial methods to improve our understanding of environmental health and justice.