Recruitment and retention strategies for environmental exposure studies Lessons from the Detroit Exposure and Aerosol Research Study

By Michael Phillips, Charles Rodes, Jonathan Thornburg, Roy Whitmore, Alan F Vette, Ronald W Williams

The Environmental Protection Agency’s Detroit Exposure and Aerosol Research Study (DEARS) was a complex 3-year personal exposure study. The six geographically defined areas in the Detroit (Wayne County), Michigan, area used as study locations are ethnically diverse; the majority of the residents are African American or Hispanic. Each summer and winter season, the study solicited 40 adult nonsmoking study participants from these predefined areas. Participants were asked to allow home visits each morning for a week, to wear a personal exposure monitoring vest, and to complete an activity diary and follow-up questionnaire each day. Community action groups, recruitment staff, and environmental technicians coordinated the recruitment and environmental sampling activities. Although the study had an overall response rate of 19 percent, recruitment goals were met nearly every season in each geographic area. Over-recruitment was necessary to replace dropouts. Recruitment staff used face-to-face household recruitment to enroll 136 study participants. Among participants, 73 percent participated in two seasons. Details about the recruitment techniques used in exposure studies, as well as the lessons learned, rarely appear in the literature. This report delineates the lessons from the DEARS that may be beneficial to other researchers using similar study designs in low-income, ethnically diverse urban areas.


Phillips, M., Rodes, C., Thornburg, J., Whitmore, R., Vette, A. F., & Williams, R. W. (2010). Recruitment and retention strategies for environmental exposure studies: Lessons from the Detroit Exposure and Aerosol Research Study. (RTI Press Publication No. MR-0021-1011). Research Triangle Park, NC: RTI Press.

© 2019 RTI International. This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.


Michael PhillipsMichael J. Phillips, BS, is a health research analyst at RTI International.

Charles RodesCharles E. Rodes, PhD, is a Senior Fellow and aerosol scientist at RTI International.

Jonathan ThornburgJonathan Thornburg received his PhD in aerosol physics and engineering from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. He is Director of Exposure and Aerosol Technology at RTI International. His research interests over several decades involve four key areas of expertise: (1) development of aerosol exposure instrumentation, (2) aerosol exposure modelling, (3) understanding the physical and chemical properties of aerosols and (4) understanding aerosol fate and transport in outdoor and indoor environments. These cornerstones are applied in laboratory and field studies to effectively research the entire exposure-dose-response paradigm. He recently led a study of e-cigarette emissions characteristics and the potential for second-hand exposure. The study found that emissions are a mixture of nanometer-size particles and vapors composed of the carrier liquid, nicotine, flavorings, and artificial colors. Respiratory deposition modelling predicted that more than half of the emissions are exhaled into the ambient air by the user, so the potential for second-hand exposure is high.

Roy WhitmoreRoy W. Whitmore, PhD, is a senior statistician at RTI International.

Alan F VetteAlan F. Vette, PhD, is a physical scientist at the US Environmental Protection Agency in Research Triangle Park, North Carolina.

Ronald W WilliamsRonald W. Williams, BS, is a supervisory physical scientist at the US Environmental Protection Agency.

Contact RTI Press

To contact an author, request an exam or review copy, or seek permission to use copyrighted content, contact our editorial team.