Concerns over increases in the level of cancers, reproductive problems, and thyroid disease on St. Lawrence Island prompted the Yupik communities of Gambell and Savoonga to engage in research to better understand sources of environmental contaminants that may be linked to health disparities on the island. Since 2000, a number of community-based participatory research (CBPR) exposure-assessment projects have been conducted at the request of communities. A legacy of two Cold War military sites abandoned in the 1970s, plus the accumulation of environmental contaminants from around the globe that drift to the Arctic have contributed to high levels of exposure to PCBs, PBDEs, PFCs and organochlorine pesticides on the island. Because these persistent organic pollutants bioconcentrate in the food chain, Indigenous peoples of the north are more at risk due to their reliance on subsistence foods, especially the consumption of marine mammal fats.
The research collaboration includes community researchers trained in scientific sample collection, scientists from the University of Alaska Anchorage (UAA) and University at Albany, State University of New York, and Alaska Community Action on Toxics. Recent studies have looked at water quality and contaminant levels in household dust and human blood serum. The research team is using freshwater fish as biosamplers of the environment because fish and humans have broadly similar genetic and hormone systems. This CBPR is made possible through grants from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS).
Merle Apassingok, lifelong resident of Gambell, St. Lawrence Island, Alaska and member of the Protecting Future Generations Work Group
Sam Byrne, Doctoral level graduate student in Environmental Sciences, School of Public Health, University at Albany, State University of New York
Frank von Hippel, professor in the Department of Biological Sciences, University of Alaska, Anchorage
The call lasted for one hour and was recorded for archival purposes.