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Environmental Factor

Environmental Factor

Your Online Source for NIEHS News

August 2018

Summit highlights tribal environmental health

Attendees at the third Tribal Environmental Health Summit June 25-26 shared their latest research on issues that affect environmental health among Native Americans. The meeting, which took place in Corvallis, Oregon, was hosted by Oregon State University (OSU) with grant support from NIEHS.

More than 130 individuals participated, hailing from tribes, universities, and government agencies. The event allowed scientists to network and explore career paths, while stakeholders learned about issues that affect tribal communities.

Sydelle Harison Sydelle Harrison, center, a Ph.D. candidate at OSU, received an award for her poster from Linda Birnbaum, Ph.D., left, director of NIEHS and the National Toxicology Program, and Stuart Harris, from Cayuse Environmental. (Photo courtesy of Molly Kile)

Common ground

“We brought together people from different backgrounds, communities, agencies, and institutions who all shared a deep interest in community-based research and environmental health issues that affect tribal communities,” said Molly Kile, Sc.D., the 2018 conference chair and an OSU associate professor of occupational health.

The summits, which are held every two years, have helped to build a broad network of Native American and Alaskan Native researchers, which grows with each meeting. Speakers presented updates and findings on issues affecting Native Americans, including topics on tribal environmental health, building sustainable research partnerships, advancing tribal research initiatives, and exploring the roles of regulatory agencies and advocates.

Among the summit attendees were 49 students, who discussed their research during a poster session and networked with professionals in the field.

Fred Hauchan Fred Hauchan, Ph.D., director of the Office of Science Policy in the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Research and Development, served as one of the poster judges. (Photo courtesy of Doug Stevens)

Indigeneous expertise

“Many of the projects we heard about at the summit include an outreach and educational component, so that those in a tribal community understand the implications of the research,” said Symma Finn, Ph.D., program officer in the NIEHS Population Health Branch.

“My experience working with tribal communities and tribal-affiliated researchers is that they are keenly aware of environmental impacts on health, and, in fact, may know more about their local conditions and risks than an investigator coming into their community to assess their risks from environmental exposures,” she said.

A vulnerable population

NIEHS research addresses many of the exposures and risks that tribal communities face. Kile believes this is crucial. She said environmental pollution disproportionately impacts tribal people because it contaminates foods and resources they depend on.

Examples include contamination of rivers and lakes by industrial pollutants, pesticides, and mining operations, such as uranium and the chemicals released during the Gold King Mine Spill.

Jani Ingram Jani Ingram, Ph.D., from Northern Arizona University, discussed her research on the health impact of abandoned mines, which she conducted in conjunction with Navajo communities. (Photo courtesy of Doug Stevens)

Additional environmental challenges include limited access to fresh and affordable foods, health effects of climate change, and contamination of traditional foods, such as that caused by organic pollutants in the Arctic.

Kile says these and other issues highlighted during the summit are not isolated to tribal communities. Rather, they are of global importance. “We showcased how research conducted with, and by, tribes helps improve the health of their communities and can also be incorporated into international policies that benefit everyone in the world,” she said.

(Frieda Wiley, Pharm.D., is a contract writer for the NIEHS Office of Communications and Public Liaison.)


Liam O'Fallon Liam O’Fallon, from the NIEHS Population Health Branch, spoke with a poster presenter at the summit. (Photo courtesy of Doug Stevens)
Amber Kramer Amber Kramer, a student at OSU, received an award for Best Student Poster Oral Science Communicator in a two-way tie, from Birnbaum and Harris. (Photo courtesy of Molly Kile)
Andrew Cyr, Myelene Ratelle From left, Birnbaum presented the Best Student Science Poster award to Andrew Cyr, from the University of Alaska. He tied with University of Arizona student Jonathan Credo, not pictured. Myelene Ratelle, Ph.D., from the University of Waterloo, received the Student Poster Oral Science Communicator award from Harris. She tied with Kramer. (Photo courtesy of Molly Kile)
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