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Oct. 11, 2000
OSWEGO -- Dr. Ronald Scrudato and his colleagues at the Environmental Research Center have been awarded an $800,000 Environmental Justice Program grant from the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences.
The project involves native Alaskans on St. Lawrence Island, about 35 miles from the Russian mainland in the Bering Sea.
"You can see the Siberian Mountains from the beach," said Scrudato, who visited the island in September.
The NIEHS program received over 200 proposals, and only six were funded. Scrudato's proposal was in collaboration with the Alaska Community Action on Toxics, an Anchorage-based environmental non-governmental organization.
As principal investigator for the grant, Scrudato is working with the Yupik Eskimos in two communities, Gambell and Savoonga, about 40 miles apart. The people of the two communities own St. Lawrence Island.
The U.S. Army operated a military base on the island throughout the Cold War and caused contamination of a significant portion of the North East Cape. There is also the possibility of contamination through atmospheric transport of pollutants, Scrudato said.
The contamination includes persistent organic pollutants, such as PCBs (polychlorinated biphenyls) and DDT.
The native people are concerned because they rely heavily on traditional hunting, fishing and gathering for their food. They are concerned about contamination of the animals and fish as well as gathered plants and berries.
The researchers will collect samples of the animals and plants and try to determine what contaminants are in them and if the contamination is the result of military dumping or from long-term transport through the atmosphere and ocean currents.
If the military is responsible, the native leaders hope to hold it accountable for cleaning up the area.
"The project will also work with local health care specialists to make them more aware and alert about environmental illnesses that may occur," Scrudato said.
After his recent visit, Scrudato spoke about the uniqueness of the island. For example, Gambell is a gravel community -- there is no green in sight.
The water surrounding the island is home to whales, walruses, seals and polar bears. The island is 150 miles due west of Nome, Alaska.
"The Yupik Eskimos have relatives in Siberia," Scrudato said. "They couldn't be in contact with them throughout the Cold War."
Now they can visit each other in small boats, like the walrus skin vessels that line the beaches on the island.
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