Chemical Contaminants in Traditional Foods from St. Lawrence Island: Findings from a New Study and Update on International Actions to Eliminate Persistent Pollutants

October 26, 2011
1:00 pm US Eastern Time

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The circumpolar Arctic is exposed to pesticides and industrial chemicals that originate from thousands of miles away, traveling northward via oceanic and atmospheric currents. These chemicals accumulate in the north because the cold climate and fat-based food web favor retention of these persistent toxic chemicals.The concentrations of persistent organic pollutants (POPs) increase at higher levels of the food web and humans are at the top of the Arctic marine food web. Therefore, Alaska Native peoples and others living in the circumpolar north bear a disproportionate burden of environmental contaminants. At the request of and in collaboration with the Yupik Eskimo people of St. Lawrence Island, Alaska Community Action on Toxics conducted a study to determine contaminant levels in traditional subsistence foods. Analyses of more than 300 samples indicated high levels of PCBs in important foods including bowhead whale, walrus, and seal.

Participants on this call from CHE-Alaska

  • Learned about the findings of the St. Lawrence Island traditional foods study recently published in the Journal of Toxicology and Environmental Health
  • Found out what actions the communities are taking to protect their health
  • Heard an update on chemicals being considered for a worldwide ban under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants (POPs)

Featured Speakers

David O. Carpenter, MD, is director of the Institute for Health and the Environment at UAlbany's School of Public Health. Dr. Carpenter previously served as director of the Wadsworth Laboratory of the New York State Department of Health.   Carpenter, who received his doctorate from Harvard Medical School, has 220 publications, 37 reviews and book chapters and 12 other publications to his credit. He has been working with the villages on St. Lawrence Island on community-based environmental health research projects for 10 years.

Pamela K. Miller founded Alaska Community Action on Toxics (ACAT) in 1997 and serves as Executive Director. Pam has thirty years of experience in environmental health research and advocacy. She is known for her work as an advocate for statewide, national, and international chemicals policy reform to protect environmental and human health, with an emphasis in the Arctic and sub-Arctic regions. Since 2000, ACAT has been awarded multiple federal grants for which Pam has been serving as team leader and, for the past five years, as principal investigator of a community-based participatory research team that includes faculty investigators from universities in Alaska and New York. She holds a master’s degree in environmental science (Miami University, Oxford Ohio, 1981).

Viola Waghiyi, is Environmental Health and Justice Program Director for Alaska Community Action on Toxics. Viola is a bilingual Yupik Eskimo who was born in Savoonga on St. Lawrence Island, Alaska. Although her family moved to Nome, she grew up in both communities, traveling between Nome and the Island throughout her childhood. Vi was hired in 2002 to work in Anchorage to assist on the St. Lawrence Island environmental health and justice project. She became the Project Coordinator in 2004, which included supervising ACAT’s research staff on St. Lawrence Island. When her work on the Island expanded in 2005 to include fifteen Native villages in the Norton Sound region, Vi’s title was changed to Environmental Justice Community Coordinator. In 2009, she stepped into the position of Environmental Health and Justice Program Director to share responsibilities with the executive director for all of ACAT’s efforts. In 2010, she was awarded the Environmental Achievement Award in Recognition of Valuable Contributions to Environmental Excellence in Alaska by the Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium. Vi is sought out repeatedly to speak at national and international meetings about ACAT’s work. Vi and her husband have four boys and work in Anchorage.