Research Expertise and Interest

environmental health, environmental justice, climate change and health

Research Description

Rachel Morello-Frosch is a Professor in the Department of Environmental Science, Policy and Management and the School of Public Health at UC Berkeley. For over 20 years, her research has examined social determinants of environmental health among diverse communities with a focus on inequality, psychosocial stress and how these factors interact with environmental chemical exposures to produce health inequalities. Much of her work has examined this environmental justice question in the context of climate change, ambient air pollution, exposures to environmental chemicals and effects on fetal growth and developmental outcomes, often using community-based participatory research methods for data collection. In collaboration with communities and scientists, Dr. Morello-Frosch has also developed science-policy tools for assessing the cumulative impacts of chemical and non-chemical stressors to improve regulatory decision-making and advance environmental justice. In addition to her scientific articles, Rachel is a co-author of Contested Illness: Citizens, Science and Health Social Movements. Her research is supported by NIH, NSF, Cal-EPA, the California Breast Cancer Research Program and private foundations.  She is a member of the National Academy of Medicine.

In the News

More Oil and Gas Wells in Redlined Neighborhoods: Historically Marginalized Communities are Exposed to More Wells With Their Accompanying Pollution

New research  from Berkeley Public Health and the Department of Environmental Science, Policy, and Management published today in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology shows that community exposure to oil and gas wells is more likely in historically redlined neighborhoods, exposing residents to environmental stressors such as water and air pollution. The study results add to evidence that structural racism in government policy is associated with more oil and gas wells being situated in marginalized neighborhoods.

Study: Safe Drinking Water Remains Out of Reach for Many Californians

An estimated 370,000 Californians rely on drinking water that may contain high levels of the chemicals arsenic, nitrate or hexavalent chromium, and contaminated drinking water disproportionately impact communities of color in the state, finds a new analysis led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, and the University of California, Los Angeles.

Research Suggests More Than 400 Hazardous Sites in California Face Flooding

In addition to the threat to residential neighborhoods, new research from UC Berkeley School of Public Health and UCLA Fielding School of Public Health suggests sea level rise will expose over 400 industrial facilities and contaminated sites in California, including power plants, refineries, and hazardous waste sites, to increased risk of flooding. Increased flooding can come with risks of contamination releases into nearby communities.

Women firefighters face high exposure to toxic ‘forever chemicals’

San Francisco’s women firefighters are exposed to higher levels of certain toxic PFAS chemicals than women working in downtown San Francisco offices, shows a new study led by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, the University of California, San Francisco, and Silent Spring Institute.

Featured in the Media

Please note: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or positions of UC Berkeley.
June 5, 2020
Dino Grandoni
Pregnant women living within a kilometer for active oil wells are 40% more likely to give birth to low birth weight babies compared to women who live further away, according to a paper published in the journal Environmental Health Perspectives by a team led by Rachel Morello-Frosch, an environmental health and justice researcher at the University of California, Berkeley. For more on this, see our press release at Berkeley News.
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June 3, 2020
Rachel Becker
Babies born to women who live near active oil and gas wells in rural California are 40% more likely to have low birthweights, finds a new, first-of-its-kind study by UC researchers. The finding did not hold up for urban areas, including significant portions of the Los Angeles area, but public health and environmental science, policy, and management professor Rachel Morello-Frosch, the study's senior author, says, "I don't think it means that urban people don't have to worry." It's possible, she says, that the link to low birthrates exists there, but that it's less noticeable because oil and gas may comprise a smaller share of overall pollution in those areas. The timing of the study is significant because California is considering new legislation concerning future oil exploration in the state. For more on this, see our press release at Berkeley News. Other stories on this topic have appeared in the Guardian, Bloomberg News, and HealthDay.
February 26, 2020
Robert Preidt, HealthDay
A new study of chemical exposure among women firefighters in San Francisco has identified three types of per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) that are present at elevated levels in firefighters compared to nearby office workers, heightening the firefighters' risk of breast and other types of cancer. "Women firefighters actually raised concern about what they have perceived as elevated rates of breast cancer among their cohort in San Francisco," says doctoral public health student Jessica Trowbridge, the study's lead author. "As a team, we decided to conduct an exposure study looking at chemicals that are potential breast carcinogens." The study is one of the first in a long-term investigation by the Women Firefighter Biomonitoring Collaborative. "This is the first study, to our knowledge, that's been done on women firefighters," says environmental science, policy and management Rachel Morello-Frosch, the study's senior author. For more on this, see our press release at Berkeley News. Another story on this topic appeared in Verge.
July 10, 2019
Steve Rubenstein
Some of the San Francisco firefighters who helped fight the 2017 Tubbs Fire in Sonoma and Napa counties had higher levels of mercury and other dangerous chemicals in their blood afterwards, largely due to inadequate equipment, according to preliminary results of a study co-authored by environmental science, policy, and management professor Rachel Morello-Frosch. She warns that the firefighters' levels of toxic chemicals could have been higher if they'd been tested earlier. While she says that none of the firefighters in the study displayed symptoms of cancer, she also notes: "Cancer takes a long time to develop, and it would be difficult to say if cancer was caused by the Tubbs Fire or by a career in firefighting." Other stories on this topic appeared in the Napa Valley Register, SF Weekly, San Francisco Examiner, KQED Online, and KPIX TV--link to video.
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