In August, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers asked the Community Engagement Core at Oregon State University’s Superfund Research Center to give a fireside chat about mercury to 35 campers at the Pine Meadows Campground which is on the shores of the Cottage Grove Reservoir. This recreational area is about 35 miles southeast of Eugene, and about 10 miles downstream of the abandoned Black Butte mine which was one of the largest mercury mines in the state in operation from the 1880s until the 1960s. Barbara Hudson-Hanley, a public health doctoral student, gave a short talk describing how mercury can move through the environment, bioaccumulate in fish, and affect human health and then led the campers through two activities.

The first activity illustrated bioaccumulation. Using pink and yellow cards, campers were assigned different roles. Children under 5 years old were “the microbes” and were tasked with gathering as many pieces as paper as they could in 30 seconds. Slightly older children were the “small fish” and could either “eat the microbes” by taking the younger children’s colored paper or pick up more cards from the ground. Teenagers and adults were the “big fish” and could “eat the small fish”. Throughout the game, the colored pieces of paper were counted. With yellow pieces of paper representing mercury, the data showed that on average microbes picked up 2 yellow and 10 pink cards, the small fish picked up 5 yellow and 20 pink cards, and the big fish had 10 yellow and 25 pink cards. Since fishing is fun and eating fish low in mercury is good for you, the next activity helped people learn about the different fish species in the Cottage Grove Reservoir and their potential to contain mercury. Children were given small fishing poles and were encouraged to “catch” laminated cut-outs of resident fish that spend their entire lives in Cottage Grove Reservoir, such as the Northern Pikeminnow and Catfish, and migratory fish, such as salmon and steelhead. With their siblings and parent’s help, they were tasked with identifying their fish against a poster that had the different types of fish and their average mercury levels and determining if they should eat that fish or not.

These activities provided useful information to campers that reinforced the concepts that recreational activities like fishing are fun and that eating fish is good for you, but that it is important to be aware of you environment and potential hazards so that you can reduce your exposure to potentially harmful pollutants like mercury. The feedback we received from the fireside chat was overwhelmingly positive. Several campers lingered afterwards to talk to Christy Johnson, from the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to discuss more about how mercury got into the Cottage Grove Reservoir and what policy actions have been taken to clean up the abandoned mine.

For more information, please see the “Black Butte Mine Video” and “Mercury, The Community, and Me” a project that was developed by OSU Superfund Research Center as part of the EPA Partners in Technical Assistance Program (PTAP). Learn more  https://superfund.oregonstate.edu/mercury

The article, “Environmental and individual PAH exposures near rural natural gas extraction” was recently published online. It isn’t uncommon for our researchers to publish the results of their work in scholarly journals. You can see we have been busily writing articles for years! This article however, is somewhat special. When we began this work, we committed to returning all the data, both environmental air sampling data and personal wristband sampling, back to the participants. That’s a big undertaking. We didn’t want to just hand over confusing charts and color-coded Excel files; we wanted to provide data that was useful and relevant to people. It’s important to us that we get it right. We’ve held focus groups and worked with community liaisons to figure out how we can do just that.

Even while the article was under review, we worked with the team of scientists that performed the research as well as computer programmers, data visualizers and community engagement & research translation experts to develop reports that detailed why the research was done, what was found, and the public health relevance of that research. The data was contextualized for every person – our computer programmer built codes to ensure that every single person received a personalized report. The reports were reviewed internally at Oregon State University and the University of Cincinnati, and externally by community liaisons.

The Research Translation Core provided materials relevant to PAHs (the focus of the study) and helped craft the reports.

So when our article was published, it didn’t just represent a contribution to the existing body of literature; it also represented over 30 personalized reports being mailed out to the individuals that not only participated in our study, but helped drive the research forward.

 

 

Native Americans have a long history of being under-represented in higher education. Currently, only 5% of Native American high school graduates go directly into a four-year college and a small percentage of those major in STEM-related degrees. In an effort to increase participation of Native American students in college programs, and introduce them to biomedical sciences, Oregon State Superfund Research Center holds several activities to bring Native Youth to campus to increase their awareness of opportunities in College and scientific careers.

On May 20, over 20 tribal youth and chaperones came to Oregon State University for a campus tour, student panel and the 41st annual Klatowa Eena Powwow. (Klatowa Eena is Chinook Wawa for ‘Go Beavers.’) SRP trainee Sydelle Harrison, who is part of the Community Engagement Core (CEC), worked with the Research Translation Core, the Training Core and SRP Administration to procure funding and organize the daylong event. For the second year in a row, Sydelle worked with youth organizations to bring students from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation and the Confederated Tribes of Warm Springs.

The 20+ students started at Callahan Hall, where SRP trainee Amelia Allee, (CEC), and University Housing and Dining Services staff took the students through the freshman dormitory, highlighting the shared lounges and kitchenettes, and showing the students a dorm room.

Following the dorm tour, Athletics staff took students on a tour of Reser stadium, including a tour of President Ed Ray’s box, and provided them an opportunity to run on the field. Up next, was the OSU Basketball Center where the students (and chaperones) took to the court. After working up an appetite, the dining halls were next, followed by the Powwow. To finish off the day, SRP trainees hosted a pizza dinner. Here, students had the opportunity to ask trainees questions about college, graduate school and SRP research. Two tribal elders attended, giving the youth their perspective regarding the importance of college. SRP trainees and faculty answered questions about the value of community college, the typical length of a college degree as well as opportunities for distance learning at the OSU satellite campuses. Many thanks to Sydelle Harrison; without her these tours would not be possible. In addition, many thanks to Amber Kramer, Carolyn Poutasse, Alix Robel, Amelia Allee and Drs. Molly Kile, Diana Rohlman, Craig Marcus and Robyn Tanguay for their help.

FullSizeRenderSydelle Harrison was awarded an SRP Externship to work with the Yellowhawk Tribal Health Center (Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation). The clinic is celebrating 20 years of self-governance this month and preparing to move into a new state of the art facility next year.

Sydelle is working on various special projects to support the Public Health Accreditation process. Her duties include outreach related to the community health assessment. She is also collecting feedback regarding the community health improvement plan.

As a Tribal member and SRP trainee, Sydelle is also working on the clinic’s new strategic plan. She aims to promote integration of environmental health back into the organization as they expand services. This has also proven to be a focal point for many Tribal members in her presentations as they ask what the people and first foods are being exposed to. Between her externship and her role as an SRP trainee, Sydelle is helping connect SRP researchers and tribal commission members and community members to expand capacity environmental health research.

Blair with clam
Blair Paulik out in the field with the butter clams.

The Samish Indian Nation invited Blair Paulik (OSU SRP Project 4 Trainee) and Diana Rohlman (OSU SRP CEC Coordinator) to the 3rd annual Fidalgo Bay Science Conference on October 23, 2014.

Our SRP presented a poster highlighting the recent butter clam sampling performed with the Samish and Swinomish tribal communities. In addition, governmental agencies, university researchers, citizen scientists and Tribal scientists presented on restoration projects (Custom Plywood Mill), the surf smelt spawning study (Salish Sea Stewards) and the Samish Natural Resources Program projects (Current Projects).

Two Samish Tribal members opened the Fidalgo Bay Science Conference floor with song and traditional stories to explain the importance of a healthy environment.

Tribal events such as this give our SRP Trainees valuable professional development experiences, exposing them to the history and culture of our Tribal partners and ways to work successfully with them.

 

Poster Presentation:

Paulik LB, Rohlman D, Donatuto J, Woodward C, Kile M, Anderson KA, Harding A. Improving techniques for estimating butter clam (Saxidomus gigantean) contamination in the Salish Sea. Poster presented at: Fidalgo Bay Science Conference, hosted by the Samish Indian Nation; 2014 October 23; Anacortes, WA.

Butter Clam Sampling Process
Butter Clam Sampling Process

See the story “Tribes partner with OSU to study clam contamination” on the Northwest Indian Fisheries Commission web site.