How do contaminants affect lands, waters, and community health in Alaska?

Can scientists distinguish persistent contaminants that arrive in the Arctic via wind and ocean currents from hazardous chemicals associated with local military and industrial activities? Alaska Community Action on Toxics is working with scientists and fifteen villages in the Norton Sound region to answer these questions.

Our Field Institute provides participants with the tools necessary to conduct their own community-based environmental sampling program to assess contaminants from local and global sources.

Sources of Contaminants in Alaska’s Norton Sound Region

Environmental contaminants from a number of sources may be contributing to high rates of diseases including cancers, birth defects, miscarriages, and other reproductive health problems among the people of Norton Sound.

Global contaminants released from chemical manufacturing facilities and industrial-scale agricultural operations in Asia, Eastern Europe, North and Central America are transported by wind and ocean currents to the Arctic. Increasingly, these persistent organic pollutants are showing up in traditional foods including berries, greens, fish, and marine mammals, as well as in drinking water sources.

Local sources of contamination include polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) and other hazardous waste from the roughly two dozen abandoned military sites in the Norton Sound region, pollution from active and inactive mining operations, and hazardous waste from open dump sites, burn barrels and burn boxes used for waste management in rural Alaska.

Read about our community-based participatory research on St. Lawrence Island with the University of Alaska, Anchorage:

UAA scientists, ACAT and community researchers work together

Sorting macroinvertebrates in the lab.

Annual Field Institute

Our annual Community-Based Environmental Health Research: A Field Sampling Institute brings togethertribal leaders and other community members from more than a dozen Norton Sound villages for a week-long intensive training program. Participants gain knowledge and hands-on experience from classroom and field sessions with nationally renowned scientists and environmental health experts. They learn about water quality testing, fish sampling, sediment coring, GIS computer mapping, and how to monitor stream health. Instructors teach participants ways to determine the presence of endocrine-disrupting chemicals in fish and how to use research tools such as semi-permeable membrane devices (SPMDs) to detect pesticides and other industrial chemicals in water. Through hands-on investigations, participants explore streams, wetlands, and coastal areas. Back in the classroom, they learn how environmental contaminants may affect human health and how to implement independent community-based environmental sampling programs in their villages.

Field Institute participants have the opportunity to earn college credit from the University of Alaska Fairbanks (UAF) Northwest Campus. The Institute is held annually in Nome or Anchorage. Please contact us to learn more.

Placing a Semipermeable Membrane Device (SPMD) to test water quality.

Lead Instructor

Frank von Hippel, Ph.D., University of Alaska Anchorage (Lead Instructor 2008, 2009, and 2010)

Guest Lecturers

Dan Bogan, M.S., Environment and Natural Resources Institute, University of Alaska Anchorage (Guest Lecturer 2009)

David Carpenter, M.D., director of the Institute for Health and the Environment, and Professor of Environmental Health Sciences and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Albany (Guest Lecturer 2008, 2009, 2010)

Jeffrey Chiarenzelli, Ph.D., Professor and Department Chair, Department of Geology, St. Lawrence University (Guest Lecturer 2008)

Elizabeth Hodges Snyder, Ph.D., M.P.H., Assistant Professor of Public Health, Department of Health Sciences, University of Alaska Anchorage (Guest Lecturer 2010)

Thomas Holsen, Ph.D., Professor and Co-Director, Clarkson Center for the Environment, Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering, Clarkson University (Guest Lecturer 2008)

Pamela K. Miller, Executive Director, Alaska Community Action on Toxics (Guest Lecturer 2008, 2009, 2010)

Sarah Petras, Environmental Health and Justice Organizer, Alaska Community Action on Toxics (Guest Lecturer 2008, 2009, 2010)

Sharon Rudolph, Encompass Data and Mapping (Guest Lecturer 2009)

Ronald J. Scrudato, Ph.D., Institute for Health and the Environment, University at Albany (Guest Lecturer 2008 and 2009)

Kathrine Springman, Ph.D., University of California, Davis (Guest Lecturer 2008 and 2009)
Gretchen Welfinger-Smith, Research Support Specialist, University at Albany (Guest Lecturer 2010)

Viola Waghiyi, Environmental Health & Justice Program Director, Alaska Community Action on Toxics (Guest Lecturer 2008, 2009, 2010)


Removing stickleback fish from a trap. Sticklebacks, native to northern latitudes, are a good indicator species for the presence of endocrine disrupting chemicals.

Sediment core sample to test for contaminants in soil.
Photo by Frank von Hippel