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

Dr. Diana Rohlman (Research Translation Core) was invited to speak at the 2018 Council of State and Territorial Epidemiologists Annual National Disaster Epidemiology Workshop in Atlanta, GA.

She discussed her collaborative work with Dr. Kim Anderson in designing a disaster response IRB, allowing rapid response in the event of a disaster. This IRB was activated following Hurricane Harvey, and shared with the University of Texas – Houston, Baylor College of Medicine and Texas A&M, allowing those three schools to receive disaster-specific IRBs as well. In addition, Dr. Rohlman highlighted the on-going work being done in the wake of Hurricane Harvey, using the passive wristband samplers. Dr. Kim Anderson is working with Baylor College of Medicine and UT-Houston to collect information from over 200 individuals living in the Houston area that were impacted by the extreme flooding. A total of 13 Superfund sites were flooded. Dr. Anderson’s analytic methods can detect up to 1,550 different chemicals in the wristband. This information will be reported back to the impacted communities, and is hoped to provide important information for future disasters to prevent or mitigate chemical exposures.

What is CSTE?

CSTE is an organization of member states and territories representing public health epidemiologists. CSTE works to establish more effective relationships among state and other health agencies. It also provides technical advice and assistance to partner organizations and to federal public health agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). CSTE members have surveillance and epidemiology expertise in a broad range of areas including occupational health, infectious diseases, environmental health, chronic diseases, injury, maternal and child health, and more. CSTE supports effective public health surveillance and sound epidemiologic practice through training, capacity development, and peer consultation.

CSTE Disaster Epidemiology sub-committee:

The Disaster Epidemiology Subcommittee brings together epidemiologists from across subject disciplines to share best practices and collaborate on epidemiologic approaches towards improving all-hazard disaster preparedness and response capacities at local, state, Tribal, regional, and national levels. It is critical to use epidemiologic principles, emergency preparedness planning, and a coordinated disaster response for describing the distribution of injuries, illnesses, and disabilities; rapidly detecting outbreaks or clusters; identifying and implementing timely interventions; evaluating the impacts of public health efforts; and improving public health preparedness planning.

The Research Translation Core, represented by Dr. Diana Rohlman, was invited to attend and present at the 14th summit of the Northwest Toxic Communities Coalition. Dr. Rohlman’s talk highlighted the innovative tools, methodologies and approaches used by the Superfund Research Program at Oregon State. One of the presented case studies highlighted the work being done at the Portland Harbor Superfund site. More information  can be found here.

Excerpted from the event summary: “Dr. Diana Rohlman kicked off the day with an introduction to research being done by the Oregon State University Superfund Research Program. Her talk emphasized the complexity of pinning down risks from manmade chemicals like Polycyclic Aromatic Hydrocarbons (which are chemicals released from burning substances or during oil spills and also used in consumer goods like air fresheners) when environments like Portland Harbor are contaminated differently over time and when the effects of a given chemical often depend on which other chemicals are present or on the specific sensitivity of the exposed individual. She also pointed out that bioremediation can be problematic because chemicals are sometimes broken down into even more toxic metabolites. This means that bioremediation may sometimes successfully eliminate one compound from an environment only to replace it with something even more toxic.” Read the full article here.

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.

On May 20, 2015, Dr. Staci Simonich and Dr. Kim Anderson presented to the Oregon State Air Toxics Science Advisory Committee (ATSAC). This committee is part of State of Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) Air Quality Division Environmental/Technical Services.clouds

ATSAC is currently setting ambient air benchmarks for PAHs, as well as diesel and particulate matter.

Dr. Simonich (Project 5 Leader) presented on”Monitoring PAHs in Ambient Air, the Big Picture.”  Dr. Anderson (Project 4 Leader) presented on “Challenges of PAH Analysis and Availability of Standards”.  Both provided an overview of their research programs, as well as addressed specific technical issues for the Committee.

Dr. Dave Stone (RTC Co-Leader), who is a member of ATSAC,  reiterated the value of both presentations, as well as the overall contribution of the Superfund Research Program at OSU in assisting the State on important public health and environmental issues.