Office of Public Affairs
(315) 312-2265
Dec. 4, 2002
CONTACT: Jim Pagano, 312-2810
OSWEGO -- A simple question asked in Alaska a few years ago led to a partnership involving SUNY Oswego researcher Jim Pagano studying contaminant levels in the Bering Sea.
The process began when Michael Smolen, a senior scientist with the World Wildlife Fund's Wildlife and Contaminants Program, was working with Native American communities in Alaska to develop a plan on the Bering Sea eco-region.
"A number of communities had questions," Smolen said. When Larson King of Meykoryuk on Nunivak Island asked what contaminants could be in their subsistence foods, Smolen saw a chance both to answer that query and to understand what other contaminants may be in the region.
Smolen called Pagano, associate director of SUNY Oswego's Environmental Research Center, who was happy to help.
The project involves the natives in the work to enable them to better understand the issues scientifically, Smolen said. They "selected the fish that were most important in their diet," he said, and helped to collect samples of the halibut, herring, salmon and tomcod.
"Jim agreed to do the chemistry and work up the results," Smolen said. The World Wildlife Fund provided a $25,000 grant for the research at Oswego.
The Alaskan natives "eat the entire fish, from the nose to the back fin," Smolen said. They eat parts of the fish, like the fat and the liver, where chemicals are more likely to accumulate, Pagano added.
Pagano, with the help of technicians and students, examined the levels of polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) in the fish samples. He has now finished the final report, "Congener-Specific PCB Analysis of Native Foods from Nunivak Island, Alaska."
He said he hopes to join Smolen for a tribal meeting in February on the island to explain his findings and answer questions and concerns. Smolen expects representatives from 50 communities to attend.
The days of scientists working in isolation "are gone," Pagano said. "Where the efforts are now are in collaboration." He said he looks forward to follow-up projects from this research.
The World Wildlife Fund shares his anticipation, Smolen said. "We hope this is just the beginning, because you can't answer questions about human exposure to contaminants with just one study," he said. "We hope in time to build this study with something that is more involved, with Jim and Larson helping design our future studies."
Pagano said that such opportunities benefit the college by honing researchers' skills, providing new data and laying the foundation for future collaborations.
"Whenever we have an opportunity to process samples from a faraway place, we jump on it," he said. "As you become more and more known in the field, more and more people start calling you."
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