Superfund Research Program
Community Engagement Core
- Project Summary
Project Summary (2022-2027)
Community engagement is central to the goals of the Columbia University Northern Plains Superfund Research Program (CUNP-SRP), which seeks to reduce exposure to arsenic (As), uranium (U), and other metals through systems science, traditional knowledge, and technology innovation. Tribal communities, similar to other rural communities, are disproportionately exposed to As and U in groundwater from anthropogenic and geogenic sources. The Community Engagement Core (CEC) of the CUNP-SRP partners with tribal communities in North and South Dakota affected by toxic elements in drinking water. The main objectives of the CEC are to mitigate exposure to metals in drinking water and prevent related health outcomes through bidirectional and participatory community engagement, advocacy, citizen science, capacity building, and impact evaluation. The CEC builds upon a strong collaboration between Columbia University, Missouri Breaks Industries Research, Inc. (MBIRI), and the Strong Heart Study (SHS). MBIRI is a Native American-owned research firm that has partnered with tribal nations for 25 years and is centrally located in South Dakota. The SHS is a prospective cohort study of cardiometabolic disease and its risk factors in Native American populations, ongoing since 1989.
The objectives of the CUNP-SRP CEC engage all project scientists and local community members to:
- Integrate the Northern Plains perspective of diverse tribal and rural community members into all CUNP-SRP activities (through a Community Advisory Committee, tribal research symposia, and communication portfolio)
- Provide outreach and education to support evidence-based approaches for improving drinking water quality in the Northern Plains (including enhanced remediation technology developed by the Light-Based Approaches to Effective and Sustainable Removal of Arsenic and Uranium from Drinking Water Sources project)
- Prevent metal-related cardiometabolic outcomes through nutritional interventions (informed by Health Effects of Metals in Native American Communities: A Longitudinal Multi-omics Study and Causal Molecular Mechanisms Linking Drinking Water Metal Exposures to Cardiometabolic Disease projects).
To achieve these aims, the team leverages established partnerships with diverse and multi-tiered stakeholders across tribal communities, including tribal and government partners involved in resources and environment, high school students and teachers, tribal officials and elders, and community members. The CEC focuses on a community that is engaged and integrated in all projects, helping collect water samples and identifying safe drinking water resources, understanding the health risks, implementing prevention strategies, adapting novel remediation strategies, and providing hands-on opportunities for SRP trainees and local community members. The CEC also leverages strong partnerships with other SRP centers that strive to improve public health in Indigenous communities and other rural environments. With a commitment to safeguarding tribal sovereignty and the right of citizens and communities to participate as equal partners in the scientific process, the CEC plays a major role in mitigating groundwater metal exposures and related disease in Northern Plains tribal communities, making drinking water safer and promoting healthy traditional diets that improve nutritional status and can prevent cardiometabolic disease.