Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT)
Environmental Health and Justice in Norton Sound, Alaska
NIEHS Grant: ES014308
Alaska Community Action on Toxics
Pamela K. Miller
Since 2005, NIEHS funding has supported the Environmental Health and Justice Norton Sound, Alaska project. Aimed at addressing human health effects of environmental contaminants related to formerly used defense sites (FUDS), the effort has centered on the development of partnerships with fifteen communities in the Norton Sound region predominantly populated by Inupiaq and Yupik native peoples.
Through the established partnerships, the project set out to develop a database of contaminants found at FUDS in the region, collect human health data from residents, facilitate information exchanges among communities about effective clean-up strategies, work with health care professionals in the region to improve diagnosis and treatment of ailments resulting from contamination, provide clean-up oversight training to village leaders, and help to establish independent contaminant monitoring programs.
The efforts of the project resulted in notable improvements in environmental and human health conditions in the Norton Sound region. Among some of the project’s contributions are the following accomplishments:
- The team performed extensive research to determine locations, contaminants present, and status of clean-up efforts at more than 40 formerly used defense sites (FUDS). The research helped to generate maps of contaminated sites valuable to monitoring clean-up efforts, as well as assisting in exposure avoidance.
- Community-based participatory research helped to gather 164 environmental samplings on pathways (e.g. inhalation, drinking water, food, and medicinal plants) of human exposure to dangerous levels of FUDS-related contamination. Analysis of this data resulted in increased public knowledge about the most prevalent pathways of human exposure to health-impeding exposures.
- Research activities consistently involved community outreach within affected communities, including information dissemination at community meetings. The partnership strongly encouraged each community’s active participation in clean-up monitoring and public policy reform.
- In 2008, ACAT introduced college-credited field courses on environmental health and field sampling methods to train community health workers and village leaders to conduct their own community-based environmental health research. This research added to the information base available on environmental and public health challenges, community monitoring capacity for clean-up efforts and effective participation to engage in policy reform at local, state and international levels.
- Data aggregated by the partners for the Northeast Cape site was submitted to the EPA requesting that the site be added to the National Priorities List (NPL or Superfund sites). In 2009, ACAT sponsored a delegation of leaders from St. Lawrence Island to meet with national policymakers. The pilgrimage resulted in commitments from the Federal government, including official site visits to St. Lawrence Island, active participation of tribes and a thorough re-evaluation of the case.
- The team actively engaged health care professionals in public health monitoring of potential FUDS-related ailments and health outcomes that might be associated with long-range transport of persistent chemicals into the Arctic region. The partnership organized health seminars to share strategies on improving diagnosis and treatment of human health problems associated with environmental contaminants. Furthermore, the research team continues to collaborate with health providers to develop an environmental health curriculum for the community health aides and other medical staff that serve the fifteen villages of the Norton Sound region.
- The team collected and analyzed over 300 traditional food samples inclusive of all subsistence foods that are critical to the diet of the people of St. Lawrence. This helped initiate a discussion with village leaders, state and federal agencies about the implications of the study for public health, strategies to protect health, and ways to improve data sharing.
- On an international level, the partnership worked with colleagues from the International POPs Elimination Network (IPEN) to ensure the listing of additional pesticides and industrial chemicals under provisions of the Stockholm Convention.
This initiative works to facilitate greater public understanding about the presence of environmental contamination within communities in the Norton Sound region of Alaska, its human health implications, and how to reduce and treat ailments through active community partnerships and thorough engagement of health care professionals.
- Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT)
- State University of New York (SUNY), School of Public Health
- Environmental Health Norton Sound Health Corporation
- Clarkson University