Internship for the Gold King Mine Spill Diné Exposure Project – Mariah Paul

Internship for the Gold King Mine Spill Diné Exposure Project – Mariah Paul

Thursday, October 25, 2018

When Mariah Paul started her work as a Research Intern for the Gold King Mine Spill Diné Exposure Project in the Diné Environmental Institute at the Diné College in October 2017, she knew little about the Gold King Mine Spill that affected the San Juan River of the Navajo Nation in 2015. But as a young Navajo woman in science, she was really interested and determined to know (and help if possible) what was being done throughout the months after the spill occurred.

“At the beginning of the internship I began to learn about what the Diné Exposure Project was about”, said Mariah, and “over the months my mind became more humble and emotional for our Navajo people”. Mariah worked with a team led by Dr. Karletta Chief, Assistant Professor & Extension Specialist in the UA Department of Soil Water and Environmental Science, and Dr. Paloma Beamer, Associate professor of the UA College of Public Health, involving the Navajo Community by educating & teaching the elders in the Navajo language about what the toxic metals from the gold mine can do over time to the health of an individual.

Mariah was one of the 14 Diné College interns, and 7 Navajo Nation Community Health Representatives (CHRs) that met from June 12th – 14th, 2018, at the Diné College Campus North to receive training in environmental health, learn to collect water samples along the river and irrigation canals, and engage in discussion on improving emergency response and results communication following a spill. “Community partners are usually involved in the recruitment and sampling efforts to achieve study goals, with our multi-directional partnership we wanted to involve the CHRs and the interns in not only the sample collection but also in the steps that come after”, said Dr. Beamer.

As part of the training, Mariah and the other students and representatives learned how to process the water samples for analysis at Northern Arizona University, how to filter and how to preserve the samples for transportation and how to prepare and format the data they collected. Reflecting on the experience one student noted, “Everyone in this room is inspiring, they give time and dedication to the community which is something we can all take back home”.

Since the beginning of her internship, Mariah got involved with Navajo elders and youth which, she said, has helped her in learning more about her culture and language. Also, she realized that more needs to be done to inform the affected communities by these environmental hazards. “The overall outcome and teaching I got from this internship was incredible and still amazes me on how much the Diné Exposure Project wants to push more on”, said Mariah.

On August 5, 2015, approximately three million gallons of acid mine drainage were accidentally released from the Gold King Mine near Silverton, CO, affecting the San Juan River of the Navajo Nation.

University of Arizona Superfund Research Program (UA SRP) investigator, Dr. Karletta Chief, and UA SRP collaborator, Dr. Paloma Beamer started the Gold King Mine Spill Diné Exposure Project consisting of UA researchers, Navajo Nation Community Health Representatives (CHRs) and Diné College interns to raise awareness of the health and environmental problems brought by the spill.

To date the Gold King Mine Spill Diné Exposure project has trained over 80 students and 35 community members, highlighting the importance of diversifying the academy and training the next generation of environmental health scientist.

Learn more about the Gold King Mine Spill Diné Exposure Project here: https://superfund.arizona.edu/info-material/gold-king-mine