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Sierra Streams Institute to study impacts of mining metals on Nevada County residents

Nevada City-based nonprofit Sierra Streams Institute has partnered with the Cancer Prevention Institute of California to launch a new study regarding health risks of living in a mining-impacted community.

After being approached by community members in 2011 to host a conference regarding concerns surrounding breast cancer, Sierra Streams Institute decided to look further into the issue.

Sixty local women have been recruited to participate in a study — Community Health Impacts of Mining Exposure — where they will provide urine and toenail samples to measure cadmium, arsenic, and other metal levels found in their bodies.



Arsenic and cadmium act as mimics of estrogen and target the estrogen preceptor. The study will also include a questionnaire where participants will fill out an entire residential history as well as lifestyle factors such as diet and exercise.

The CPIC will take all the information and crunch the numbers to see if there is an association between these factors and living in a mining area such as Nevada County. The women participants are divided into two age groups, 18 to 35 and 35 and older, and then divided again based on length of residency in Gold Country.




“We’re using this pilot study as a stepping stone,” said epidemiologist Peggy Reynolds of the Cancer Prevention Institute of California. “We want to know if people up here are exposed to certain kinds of chemicals more than others.”

“It’s the first study of its kind to be conducted,” said Alex Keeble-Toll, a California naturalist with Sierra Streams Institute.

Keeble-Toll, a UC Davis grad, presented at a July 14 informational forum at Madelyn Helling Library, where she discussed the environmental risks of metal mining.

She discussed how exposure to these environmental metals are primarily through ingestion and inhalation, for example, drinking or cooking with well water.

“This project is really about community participatory research,” said Sierra Streams Executive Director and biologist Joanne Hild. “We are leading this study with our community.”

Though all 60 volunteer positions have been filled, if the study presents any new information, Sierra Streams is hoping to develop an even larger study.

“If we find something, we’re going to go forward with it,” said Sierra Streams Institute Watershed Coordinator Jane Sellen.

Sample packages will be mailed out this week, and according to Sellen they are hoping to analyze results by November.

“We fought very hard to be able to give women their individual results from the tests because we strongly feel that the community has a right to know,” Sellen said.“This is a new movement in research because we want the community point of view.

“The community has been, and will continue to be, involved.”

Maya Anderman is an intern with The Union. Contact her via email at ncpcintern@theunion.com.


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