Professor and students awarded for project with community

12/19/2007 8:00:00 AM

A collaborative project with a public health professor, her students, the Yerington community and a non-profit organization received great accolades from the Accentuate the Positive program from the Truckee Meadows Tomorrow organization. The project focused on empowering the community to identify health problems that may result from mine pollution in Yerington.

Marie Boutt, associate professor in the School of Public Health, initiated the project in fall 2006 with sociology student and Great Basin Mine Watch employee Vanessa Conrad and students from the class, Toxic Communities and Public Health. The Great Basin Mine Watch is an organization that monitors the mining industry in Nevada and beyond.

The project began with a paper about the mining and pollution situation in Yerington, focusing on the different points of view of the agencies and people involved: government agencies, residents, mining companies, the media, and non-profit organizations.

"It basically started as collecting data and that grew into something else," Conrad said.

The Yerington community contacted Boutt to do a health ethnography, a research method that involves gathering health data on the community. Conrad, among other undergraduate and graduate students, helped collect data with Boutt.

The concerns with health in Yerington were caused by the abandoned Anaconda Copper mine in Yerington which is currently owned by British Petroleum and has produced enough pollution to warrant these concerns. The Environmental Protection Agency is also monitoring the pollution, according to Conrad.

Both Boutt and Conrad admit it is difficult to determine if health problems are associated with the mine pollution. Despite the project's focus on health problems and a possible link to mine pollution, the goal of the project is about the informing local communities.

Boutt said the project is ultimately about enlightening the public of their health issues and empowering local communities to be active in their health and keeping informed about them.

"I think it's important that communities take responsibilities as much as they can for health assessments and health needs," Boutt said. "This was a project that will hopefully empower communities to be advocates for their own needs."

Conrad also hopes that this project will inform Nevadan citizens about mines pollution and how it affects residents and the environment.

"What we hope to accomplish is to educate rural communities to have a better understanding of personal health, safety and conservation of the environment after pollution from mining and power plants," Conrad said. "Steps can be taken to allow the industry to continue in Nevada and to keep all communities safe."

The Truckee Meadows Accentuate the Positive awarded Boutt and her students the Silver Star Award for Transforming Community Initiatives. Awards are dispersed every two year and Boutt's team was one of only 33 awards given out.

"I'm thrilled to death about receiving this award especially in the community initiatives category," Boutt said. "We've gotten a lot of attention because of the collaboration and this award."


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