Women Worker Biomonitoring Collaborative

We seek to understand women’s workplace exposures so we can make their jobs safer.

The Women Workers Biomonitoring Collaborative brings together workplace communities, scientists, and advocates to study women workers’ body burden of chemicals. We have been working together since 2012 to understand the exposures of women firefighters, office workers, and nurses.

Our work started with the Women Firefighters Biomonitoring Collaborative (WFBC), a cross-sectional study comparing chemical levels in female firefighters and office workers in San Francisco. Since then we have expanded to include nurses in the Women Workers Biomonitoring Collaborative. The WWBC includes a cross-sectional comparison of chemical levels in female nurses, office workers, and firefighters, as well as longitudinal sampling of firefighters after a fire event.


The WWBC study will explore exposures in nurses, healthcare workers, office workers, and firefighters.


Twenty female San Francisco Fire Department firefighters in the WWBC will provide biospecimen samples and complete a brief exposure assessment interview within 24-48 hours of attending a fire, 1 week post-fire, and 1 month post-fire. Chemical levels will be compared across the three time points. This will help characterize exposures immediately after a fire, and how those exposures change over time.

Biospecimen samples are being analyzed using novel non-targeted techniques that allow researchers to assess a broader range of potential breast carcinogens. Individual results are reported back to participants who elect to receive them through the Digital Exposure Report-Back Interface (DERBI), developed by collaborators at Silent Spring Institute.


The nurses and office workers’ portion of the Women Workers Biomonitoring Collaborative aims to assess exposures related to breast cancer in female nurses as compared to female office workers in San Francisco. The study includes 60 inpatient nurses from UCSF and 40 office workers from the City and County of San Francisco. Participants provided a blood and urine sample and completed a brief exposure assessment interview.


Immigrants account for over a third of health care workers in California, yet are an understudied group despite their significant risk of exposures to potential breast carcinogens. In an additional study to explore exposures in immigrant health care workers, we have expanded the scope to include custodians/environmental service workers, patient care assistants, and hospital unit service coordinators. 

We will investigate which U.S. occupations result in high exposures to breast carcinogens for immigrant women and how the immigrant work experience shapes exposures to both toxic chemicals and social factors influencing poor health for a cohort of healthcare workers. Our study will use publicly available, secondary demographic, product ingredient, and biomonitoring data (i.e., measurements of chemical levels in the body) to identify occupations where immigrant women workers are highly exposed to potential breast carcinogens. We will also conduct 40-60 interviews with healthcare workers to understand how the immigrant work experience shapes exposures to both toxic chemicals and social determinants of poor health.

Funder:  California Breast Cancer Research Program


Silent Spring Institute

Department of Toxics Substances Control Environmental Chemistry Lab


United Fire Service Women

Alliance of Nurses for a Healthy Environment

San Francisco Firefighter Cancer Prevention Foundation

Breast Cancer Prevention Partners