Assessment, Monitoring and Adaptation To Food and Water Security Threats to the Sustainability of Arctic Remote Alaska Native Villages

EPA Grant Number: R835597
Title: Assessment, Monitoring and Adaptation To Food and Water Security Threats to the Sustainability of Arctic Remote Alaska Native Villages
Investigators: Berner, James E. , Brubaker, Michael
Institution: Alaska Native Tribal Health Consortium
EPA Project Officer: McOliver, Cynthia
Project Period: July 1, 2014 through June 30, 2018
Project Amount: $888,282
RFA: Science for Sustainable and Healthy Tribes (2013) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Tribal Environmental Health Research , Health


Climate warming in the circumpolar north has resulted in the following changes: permafrost active layer deepening; longer and warmer ice-free seasons; movement of species range further north; changes in ocean and atmospheric transport of anthropogenic contaminants, and movement into food webs; ecosystem changes in the Bering Sea have been associated with northward movement of zoonotic pathogens not previously known to exist in sea mammals and other species. Rural Alaska Natives (AN) are, by virtue of isolated location, culture, and economic status, the most su bsistence-dependent population in the US. As advances in medical care have come to AN, infant mortality has decreased, life expectancy has increased, better diagnosis have created a large group of cancer survivors, and more chronic illnesses are being treated with medications which can compromise immune competence. This has resulted in a growing population of very vulnerable village residents, exposed to unknown amounts of zoonotic infection and anthropogenic contaminants in their subsistence food, and village source water, which threatens the sustainability of these villages.


The proposal will examine the following hypotheses.

  1. The warmer seasons have created an environment in tundra water sources that favors bacterial methylation of mercury deposited by airborne transport from Asia, and releases from melting snow and melting permafrost. This is not measured or treated in current rural treatment systems, and water levels will be found to be above EPA standards. Cyanobacterial toxins will be found in summer water samples from village water sources, for the first time.
  2. Warmer winters have favored survival of infected land and sea mammals, and will result result in higher seroprevalence of subsistence animals with antibodies to toxoplasma, brucella, and Q fever (the human infection with Coxiella burnetti) than when last tested 25 years ago, and will also confirm new zoonoses not found at that time.
  3. Tissue levels of mercury and anthropogenic contaminants in Bering Strait regional hunter­ killed animals will be significantly higher than levels in the same species in the North Pacific.
  4. Toxins associated with paralytic shellfish poisoning and amnesic shellfish poisoning will be found in subsistence species of shellfish harvested at village beaches where no harmful algal blooms {HABs) have been previously noted.

Expected Results:

The outcomes of the research will be risk data enabling ANTHC and tribal councils to develop adaptation strategies to reduce exposure to the pathogens, contaminants and toxins in subsistence foods and village water supplies. This will reduce risk for the most vulnerable subset of the resident population, and ensure that Alaska Native people can continue to harvest and consume their traditional diet, which is essential to their cultural and economic survival. The final outcome will be to provide data to tribal, state, federal and international agencies and organizations, which will assist in better understanding the movement of animal species, pathogens and contaminants as climate affects ocean and atmospheric transport mechanisms.

Publications and Presentations:

Publications have been submitted on this project: View all 11 publications for this project

Journal Articles:

Journal Articles have been submitted on this project: View all 2 journal articles for this project

Supplemental Keywords:

environmental matrices, water safety, subsistence food safety

Progress and Final Reports:

  • 2015 Progress Report
  • 2016 Progress Report
  • 2017 Progress Report