Author(s): Christine Ghetu, Diana Rohlman, Kim Anderson

When a wildfire breaks out public health recommendations are to stay indoors and close all windows, but is that the best advice? Toxicology researchers at Oregon State University are very interested in understanding the effect of wildfires on indoor and outdoor air quality. Dr. Kim Anderson and her team have been collecting samples before, during and after wildfires in the Pacific Northwest using community-engaged research for the last three years to help improve public health recommendations.

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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.

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 teaching mcnary 2
Blair Paulik discussing toxicology in the classroom

Blair Paulik and Jamie Minick, both SRP Trainees working on their PhDs in Dr. Kim Anderson’s lab (Project 4), traveled to McNary High School in the Salem, OR area on April 10th to teach students about environmental pollution.

This opportunity was initiated when a teacher from McNary contacted the Community Outreach & Engagement Core of the Environmental Health Sciences Center (EHSC). The opportunity was then given to the Department of Environmental & Molecular Toxicology’s graduate student organization, TEAM Tox. This is a great way for grad students to get out into classrooms.

Blair and Jamie’s interactive presentation highlighted where environmental pollution comes from, why environmental pollution is of concern, how humans are exposed to pollutants, and how scientists at Oregon State University are studying pollutants in the environment.

Jamie Minick presenting on environmental pollutants.
Jamie Minick presenting on environmental pollutants.

Throughout the day, Blair and Jamie taught 129 high school students from six different classes including chemistry, biology, and environmental science. The students showed genuine interest in the subject matter, asking questions about specific environmental pollutants and about science and college in general.