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Superfund Grantee Wins NASA Fellowship

By Eddy Ball
August 2010

Monica Ramírez
Ramírez, above, will get used to protective equipment, such as her respirator, as she pursues her research in communities near the Iron King Mine and Humboldt Smelter site. (Photo courtesy of Monica Ramírez and UA SRP)

Abandoned mines on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border.
Abandoned mines on both sides of the U.S.-Mexico border create an environmental hazard as wind and water transport tailings to the soil of nearby communities. (Photo courtesy of Monica Ramírez and UA SRP)

A team of UA SRP researchers laying irrigation pipe at the King Mine site.
A team of UA SRP researchers is shown laying irrigation pipe at the King Mine site, in a phytostabilization trial to determine whether vegetation can keep mine tailings sequestered. (Photo courtesy of Monica Ramírez and UA SRP)

Binational Center Co-director James Field, Ph.D., with Program Coordinators Rocio Estrella and Denise Moreno Ramírez.
Three of Ramírez's colleagues posed for a photo at a UA-sponsored Specialized Workshop in Ciudad Obregón, Mexico in 2008 (see story (http://www.niehs.nih.gov/news/newsletter/2008/december/taking-research.cfm)). Shown left to right are Binational Center Co-director James Field, Ph.D., with Program Coordinators Rocio Estrella and Denise Moreno Ramírez. (Photo courtesy of UA SBRP)

NIEHS-funded (http://tools.niehs.nih.gov/portfolio/sc/detail.cfm?appl_id=7813110) University of Arizona (UA) Superfund Research Translation Coordinator Monica Ramírez will soon transition into a fulltime Ph.D. student, thanks to a space grant fellowship from the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA). The NASA Space Grant program and nominating departments at UA provide six graduate fellowships per year to exceptional graduate students interested in promoting the understanding of science by the public.

Ramírez leaves her role with the Superfund Research Program (SRP) at UA (http://superfund.pharmacy.arizona.edu/) Exit NIEHS to pursue her degree as she works with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ), and the towns of Dewey and Humboldt, Ariz. to determine the quality of vegetables grown in home gardens neighboring the Iron King Mine and Humboldt Smelter Superfund Site (http://yosemite.epa.gov/r9/sfund/r9sfdocw.nsf/ViewByEPAID/az0000309013?OpenDocument) Exit NIEHS.

During her tenure with UA SRP, Ramírez worked with the U.S.-Mexico Binational Center for Environmental Sciences and Toxicology (http://binational.pharmacy.arizona.edu/index.php) Exit NIEHS, fostering the growth and development of UA's unique international outreach program targeting Mexican and Mexican-American communities in the southwestern U.S., U.S.-Mexico border region, and Mexico itself.

Along with colleagues Denise Moreno Ramírez and Rocio Estrella, she organized an innovative science camp, CampCIENCIAS, for students living along the Arizona-Mexico border, and conducted science translation programs that included trainings for community health advocates known as promotoras. Additionally, she has established a solid partnership with EPA Office of Research Development Superfund and Technology Liaison Mike Gill. For the past three years they have been co-hosting an "EPA Seminar Series" bringing SRP science to remediation project managers within EPA Region 9, which includes Arizona, California, Hawaii, Nevada, the Pacific Islands subject to U.S. law, and approximately 140 Tribal Nations, and beyond.

As she moves from part-time studies to full-time student status, Ramírez will bring her community-engagement skills to bear on her new work with the Gardenroots (http://www.superfund.pharmacy.arizona.edu/gardenroots.php) Exit NIEHS project, which addresses community concerns regarding the quality of produce from home gardens. She will be working with local vegetable gardeners to determine if their soils and vegetable gardens have been impacted by mine tailing waste.

The project aims to empower community members by training them to collect samples from their gardens for micronutrient and metals analyses and informing them about issues related to soil and water quality in Arizona and the Southwestern United States. Ramírez envisions project participants becoming ambassadors for the environment as they expand their understanding of the effects of the environment on their health and quality of their lives, and articulate their concerns about effective remediation efforts.



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