Community-based science to protect future generations

September 30, 2023 @ 12:00am (AKDT)

Since CHE-Alaska’s last update on Community Based Participatory Research (CBPR) with the communities of Sivuqaq (traditional name for Saint Lawrence Island) in 2017, an additional six peer-reviewed papers have been published (see reference section below) with findings pertaining to the effects of persistent organic pollutants (POP’s) on the Arctic ecosystem, food web, and people.  Concerns over health disparities including cancer, thyroid disease, diabetes, heart disease, and birth defects have motivated members of Sivuqaq communities of Savoonga and Gambell to investigate the connection between health disparities and environmental contamination from POPs and toxic metals such as mercury.

The Arctic region is disproportionately exposed to POPs through the process of global distillation. Sivuqaq, located in the Arctic, is also subject to contamination from two abandoned cold-war era military sites located on the island. There are diverse sources of POPs and toxic substances on Sivuqaq; leading to ongoing exposures of the Yupik people of Sivuqaq through contaminated air, water, and traditional foods.

On September 30, CHE-Alaska hosted an update on these CBPR projects and heard about findings from these and related studies from Savoonga resident and Community Work Group member Sandra Gologergen and co-authors of these papers, Sam Byrne and Viola (“Vi”) Waghiyi.

A list of published peer-reviewed papers, news articles, and previous CHE-Alaska webinars on this topic are listed below.

Related Resources and Readings: 

Pollutants from far distances found in Bering Sea animals hunted by Indigenous people by Yereth Rosen (Alaska Beacon, June 2022) –

Cold War-era military site continues to pollute fish and Yupik people by Brian Bienkowski (Environmental Health News, December 2017) –

Cleaning Up a Legacy of Pollution on an Alaskan Island (The New York Times, Science at the End of the Earth) –

Skipper Science citizen science program in Bering Sea – “collecting data, building relationship and increasing dialogue between ocean scientists and ocean users” –

Cancer Facts and Figures 2022 – Report by the American Cancer Society (see page 30 – Special Section: Cancer in the American Indian and Alaska Native Population)

Spatial and temporal trends of the Stockholm Convention POPs in mothers milk (Fang et al., 2015) in Environmental Sciecne and Pollution Research


Published papers of Alaska Community Action on Toxics and Community-Based Participatory Research Partners: 

Carpenter, David O. Anthony P. DeCaprio, David O. Hehir, Farooq Akhtar, Glenn Johnson, Ronald J. Scrudato, Lucy Apatiki, Jane Kava, Jesse Gologergen, Pamela K. Miller, Lorraine Eckstein. 2005. Polychlorinated Biphenyls in Serum of the Siberian Yupik People from St. Lawrence Island, Alaska. International Journal of Circumpolar Health 64:4.

Welfinger-Smith, Gretchen. Judith L. Minholz, Sam Byrne, Vi Waghiyi, Jesse Gologergen, Jane Kava, Morgan Apatiki, Eddie Ungott, Pamela K. Miller, John G. Arnason, David O. Carpenter. 2011. Organochlorine and Metal Contaminants in Traditional Foods from St. Lawrence Island, Alaska. Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A.74:1195-1214

Hoover, Elizabeth. Katsi Cook, Ron Plain, Kathy Sanchez, Vi Waghiyi, Pamela Miller, Renee Dufault, Caitlin Sislin, David O. Carpenter. 2012. Indigenous Peoples of North America: Environmental Exposures and Reproductive Justice. Environmental Health Perspectives 120(12):1645-1649.

Scrudato, Ronald J.  J.R.Chiarenzelli, P.K. Miller, C.R. Alexander, J. Arnason, K. Zamzow, K. Zweifel, J. Kava, V. Waghiyi, D.O. Carpenter. 2012. Contaminants at Arctic formerly used defense sites. Journal of Local and Global Health Sciences, Vol. 2012, 2.

Miller, Pamela K. Viola Waghiyi, Gretchen Welfinger-Smith, Samuel Carter Byrne, Jane Kava, Jesse Gologergen, Lorraine Eckstein, Ronald Scrudato, Jeff Chiarenzelli, David O. Carpenter, Samarys Seguinot-Medina. 2013. Community-based participatory research projects and policy engagement to Protect Environmental Health on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska. International Journal of Circumpolar Health; Circumpolar Health Supplement 72: 21656  –

Byrne, Samuel. Pamela Miller, Viola Waghiyi, C. Loren Buck, Frank A. von Hippel, David O. Carpenter. 2015. Persistent Organochlorine Pesticide Exposure Related to a Formerly Used Defense Site on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska: Data from Sentinel Fish and Human Sera.Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health, Part A: 78:15, 976-992.

Byrne, S.  S Seguinot-Medina, P Miller, V Waghiyi, FA von Hippel, CL Buck, DO Carpenter. 2017. Exposure to polybrominated diphenyl ethers and perfluoroalkyl substances in a remote population of Alaska Natives. Environ Pollution: 231(Pt 1) 387-395.

Byrne, SC, PK Miller, S Seguinot-Medina, V. Waghiyi, CL Buck, FA von Hippel, DO Carpenter. 2017. Associations between serum polybrominated diphenyl ethers and thyroid hormones in a remote Alaska Native population. Environmental Pollution 231 (2017) 387-305.

von Hippel FA, PK Miller, DO Carpenter, D Dillon, L Smayda, I Katsiadaki, T Titus, P Batzel, JH Postlethwait, CL Buck. 2018. Endocrine disruption and differential gene expression in sentinel fish on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska: health implications for indigenous residents. Environmental Pollution 234:279-287.

Byrne, S, Pamela Miller, Samarys Seguinot-Medina, Vi Waghiyi, C. Loren Buck, Frank A. von Hippel, David O. Carpenter. 2018. Exposure to perfluoroalkyl substances and associations with serum thyroid hormones in a remote population of Alaska Natives. Scientific Reports 8:2198-2207.

Zheng, Guomao. Pamela K. Miller, Frank von Hippel, C. Loren Buck, David O. Carpenter, Amina Salamova. 2020. Legacy and emerging semi-volatile organic compounds in sentinel fish from an Arctic formerly used defense site in Alaska. Environmental Pollution 259: 113872.

Byrne, Samuel, Samarys Seguinot-Medina, Vi Waghiyi, Erika Apatiki, Tiffany Immingan, Pamela Miller, C. Loren Buck, Frank A. von Hippel, David O. Carpenter. 2022. PFAS and PBDEs in Traditional Subsistence Foods from Sivuqaq, Alaska. Environmental Science and Pollution Research: June 8, 2022.

Renee Jordan-Ward, Frank A. von Hippel, Guomao Zheng, Amina Salamova, Danielle Dillon, Jesse Gologergen, Tiffany Immingan, Elliott Dominguez, Pamela Miller, David Carpenter, John H. Postlethwait, Samuel Byrne and C. Loren Buck. 2022. Elevated mercury and PCB concentrations in Dolly Varden (Salvelinus malma) collected near a formerly used defense site on Sivuqaq, Alaska. Science of the Total Environment 826:154067.

Previous CHE-Alaska webinars on this topic:

Community-Based Participatory Resarch on Saint Lawrence Island – How Yupik Residents are Helping to Identify Persistent Pollutants in Their Communities

Community-Based Participatory Research in the Arctic: Sources of Environmental Contaminants on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska


Featured speakers

Viola (“Vi”) Waghiyi is a Yupik grandmother who was born in Savoonga on Sivuqaq (traditional name for St. Lawrence Island). Vi was hired in 2002 to work in Anchorage to assist on the Sivuqaq environmental health and justice projects. She became the Project Coordinator in 2004 and Environmental Justice Community Coordinator in 2005. In 2009, she stepped into the position of Program Director to share responsibilities with the executive director for all of ACAT’s efforts. She served as a National Advisory Environmental Health Sciences Council member to the National Institute of Health and in 2021 was named to the White House Environmental Justice Advisory Council.

Sam Byrne, PhD, is an assistant professor of Biology and Global Health at Middlebury College.  He earned an MS and PhD degrees at the University at Albany School of Public Health in the department of Environmental Health Sciences. He is an environmental health scientist with a focus in environmental epidemiology. His research includes the environmental causes of health disparities, health effects of environmental chemicals, and the social and cultural factors which influence exposure to toxic substances.

Sandra Gologergen was born in 1962 and raised in Savoonga. She cares deeply for the health of the lands and waters of Sivuqaq and for the children. She works to educate younger generations about the importance of protecting the land and to pass on the knowledge she has received from her ancestors. She loves berry picking and serving as a storyteller in the school. Her close knit family includes her five sisters and a brother, 3 children and 2 grandchildren. Sandra serves on the Sivuqaq Working Group that guides all aspects of the Community-Based Research on Sivuqaq.


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