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Your Environment. Your Health.

Emory University

A Social Network-Based Intervention to Reduce Lead Exposure In Native American Children

Michelle C. Kegler

Project Description:

The purpose of this study is to test whether adding an inter-generational component to an existing social network-based lay health advisor intervention increases its effectiveness in mobilizing a Native American community to respond to heavy metal contamination from lead and zinc mining. Ottawa County Oklahoma, the site of this project, was heavily mined for zinc and lead in the first half of this century. Mine tailings containing heavy metals are stored in piles up to 200 feet in height and cover 800 acres. Ottawa County is home to 8 Indian tribes and much of the mine waste is on tribal land. The research project builds on previous work with these tribes, by expanding to address cadmium in addition to lead, and by adding a youth component. Specifically, the study has the following aims: 


  1. integrate Native American youth groups with an existing lay health advisor program to form an inter- generational intervention; 
  2. expand the existing lay health advisor intervention to address cadmium in addition to lead; 
  3. use participatory research methods to involve tribal youth and adults in a residential particulate matter exposure study; 
  4. assess the extent to which the intervention contributes to belief, attitude and behavior changes that will reduce heavy metal exposure and absorption in Native American children; 
  5. assess whether the intervention contributes to changes in mean blood lead level of Native American children relative to white children; and 
  6. assess the contribution of the intervention to creating changes in organizational, community, tribal and government (city, county, state, federal) capacity to address heavy metal contamination in Ottawa County, Oklahoma. 


The research design is a quasi-experimental pretest-post test design with a comparison group. Data collection methods for the outcome evaluation include a population-based blood lead screening of 400 Native American and white children (ages 1-6) and accompanying care giver interviews, organizational network interviews, and community leader surveys. In addition to assessing change at multiple levels, all instruments assess key dimensions of community capacity (social capital, sense of community, community participation and civic, involvement) with an emphasis on capacity to respond to environmental health problems. Process evaluation methods include documentation of lay health advisory contacts and interviews with youth and adult volunteers.


  • Christen Creson
    Director, Environmental Department
    Wyandotte Nation
  • Dr. Brenda Elledge
    Assistant Professor
    University of Oklahoma Health Sciences Center

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