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UA-Led Research Honored For Community Engagement Project

A cross-disciplinary team of researchers from the University of Arizona received the award for Best Poster for Community Engagement at the 2017 Annual Grantees Meeting of the NIH-EPA Environmental Health Disparities Centers of Excellence Research in Albuquerque, NM in December.

The project involved working with the Navajo Nation on assessing exposure and risk perceptions following the Gold King Mine spill in August 2015. The mine leaked three million gallons of polluted water into a tributary of the Animas River in Colorado. The water traveled into the San Juan and Colorado rivers, flowing along the borders of 12 Native American Tribes.

Paloma Beamer, PhD, environmental engineer and associate professor of environmental health sciences at the Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health and Karletta Chief, PhD, a Navajo hydrologist and assistant professor in the Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Science, lead a cross-disciplinary team to address tribal questions regarding the impact of the environmental disaster on their communities.

The poster titled, Community Driven University Partnerships to Assess Exposures and Risk Perceptions of Diné Communities following the Gold King Mine Spill, details the experiences of building community and university partnerships to quickly develop and implement a community-based risk assessment in the wake of this environmental disaster. 

Central to this effort has been the development of a network of Diné community partners from the affected chapters that have guided the university researchers in designing and implementing a culturally appropriate study that addresses the community’s concerns. 

A key focus has been on building capacity for assessing environmental exposures through training of Diné tribal college students, environmental interns, and community health representatives. To date more than 70 students (half Diné) and 25 community members have collaborated and participated in data collection, interpretation, and dissemination. 

“Given the potential for future catastrophic mine spills in the Western United States, the findings will be used to develop a model of community capacity-building aimed at empowering affected communities to collect samples, minimize impacts, and engage in informed-decision making,” said Dr. Beamer.

This work was supported by the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences (NIEHS R21 ES026948), University of Arizona Superfund Research Program (NIEHS P42 ES004940), Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center (NIEHS P30ES006694), and the Agnese Nelms Haury Foundation.

[Photo: Members of the cross-disciplinary team of researchers on the Gold King Mine Spill project led by the University of Arizona attended the NIH-EPA Annual Grantees Meeting of the Centers of Excellence in Environmental Health Disparities Research, Dec. 4-5, 2017 in Albuquerque, NM. From left, Janene Yazzie (To Be Nihi Dzill), Yoshira Ornelas Van Horne, PhD Candidate, Environmental Health Sciences; Mae-Gilene Begay, Director, Navajo Community Health Representatives; Brenette Pine, Supervisor, Crownpoint Community Health Representatives; Karletta Chief, Assistant Professor, UA Department of Soil, Water and Environmental Sciences; Paloma Beamer, Associate Professor, Environmental Health Sciences, UA Mel and Enid Zuckerman College of Public Health; Jennifer Richards, DrPH student; Rachelle Begay, Program Coordinator, UA Center for Indigenous Environmental Health Research. Dec. 5, 2017]


The University of Arizona