Tribal-led study tests for toxins

An aerial view of a large island on a cloudy day

“Help is not coming fast enough for our generation. So at the direction of our leadership, we will make sure measures are in place to protect our most vulnerable; our children and future generations,” Savoonga citizen Vi Waghiyi with Alaska Community Action on Toxics recently told morning show listeners.

For years, Waghiyi has spoken up about alarming side effects of pollution, like cancer and stillbirths, in her home community. She says toxins from abandoned industrial and military sites, especially on St. Lawrence Island, leak compounds like pesticides, heavy metals, fuel, and mercury into the environment — her people’s food supply.

She and other community members have taken things into their own hands. They have partnered with researchers who, she said, deeply recognize the validity of her tribe’s local knowledge of their home environment. That’s why she was on the radio: the research team was in Savoonga, conducting tests in the school library of anyone who was willing to be screened. Their goal, she told listeners, was to get samples of blood, fingernail clippings and household dust. Testing these samples for toxins will help them determine how pollution impacts the population at large. 

Image at top: An aerial view of St. Lawrence Island, circa 2015. Photo by Laura Kraegel, KNOM.