CRST Environmental Protection Department

Special Project Clean Water
Summer Workshop

**Photo Pages 1  2**

Environmental Epidemiology Summer Workshop

Final Report

 CRST Environmental Protection Department

Special Project Clean Water 106

 Program Overview

 The 2002 Environmental Epidemiology Program is a continuation of a program initiated last year that encompasses the study of the environmental impacts of mining in the Black Hills and other environmental impacts and their effects on the ecosystem and on human health on the Cheyenne River Reservation.

 We had eleven students completing the course this year (one of the initial twelve students recruited departed one week into the course due to health reasons). We cut back the number of students this year from the fifteen participants we had last year due to a reduced budget and logistical simplicity. We could very easily have had more participants this year because our program is popular and interest is high.

 Training began on July 15, 2002 with three days of intensive basic science instruction. We feel this has been an essential core of this program because many of our students have not mastered basic science principles. As a veteran instructor of students on the Cheyenne River Reservation, I can tell you unequivocally that there will always be a serious gap between adequately prepared students and those who have not been adequately prepared in any group of students that are assembled. That is irrelevant to us. Our mission is to provide education for these students wherever they are able (academically) to meet us, and build upon that platform of ability and interest.One of the many pre-test taken before training

 Students attended lectures and participated in instruction in several topics critical to program success. Without these concepts as a base, students simply would not understand the concepts being discussed by CRST EPD staff, consultants, or other participants during the course. The topics we covered included chemistry, cell biology, taxonomy, major biological phyla from algae to humans, CRST Programs, mining science, GPS and GIS, as well as environmental epidemiology. It is important to note that these are very involved topics and our presentation is meant as a supplement rather than as a replacement for comprehensive high school coursework normally taken by students.

 Based on the pretest and posttest analysis, the vast majority of students experienced significant gains in their test results over basic science and other core concepts, which was expected. A couple students had difficulty with this testing format and did not make appreciable gains. This can be attributed to many things for those specific individuals, such as poor testing format for their learning style, lecture material presented too fast, poor note taking skill, poor individual recall skills, etc. Still, every student did an excellent job in the lab and in the field and based on his or her final comments; every single student enjoyed and appreciated the opportunity to participate in our program. Based on this information, even if I could go back and select different students specifically to increase the test scores, I would not.

 Following our basic science instruction, the students went to the Cheyenne River for a day of field testing. The first group performed a discharge analysis and cross-sectional mapping of a section of the Cheyenne River . In this study, students run a measured line across a section of the river and measure the depth of the cross section at various predetermined intervals across the width of the river. Students used a flow meter at each of the intervals to determine the rate of flow in specific sections of the river. By performing this analysis, students learn what measurable amount of a contaminant (in the volume of water passing through that segment) could be deposited in the various segments of the river at any given time. This is critical in how the EPD professional determine the “load” of the contaminant in the river.

 The second group conducted probe-based water quality testing. Students used electronic, hand-held probes (of the specific variety used for scientific EPD research) to determine various water quality parameters. Electronic probes are used for just a few basic tests (i.e., dissolved oxygen, temperature, conductivity, etc.). They are often much quicker and easier to perform than chemical tests at the river bank, where errors easily occur when pouring chemicals and adding powders, or subjective colorimetric tests, which are visual judgment-based tests where different students can easily look at the same color and interpret different results.

 The third group collected macroinvertebrates with both a kick net and a Hess sampler in the shallow rapids of the Cheyenne River . Prior to this training, many of the students did not realize that many insects that are important to river ecosystems actually go through some or all of their life cycle under the surface of the water. Many of the insects are considered to be ecological indicators. In other words, their presence (or their conspicuous absence) can help a technician determine the health of a river ecosystem. Students placed the kick net (basically a 3 foot by 3 foot net with sticks bordering two edges) in the water and used their feet to vigorously disturb the rocky river bottom. 

This displaces water dwelling insects, which often build microhabitats on the undersurface of the rocks lining the riverbed. Students then collected the insects for later lab analysis.

  The final group used a seine and collected fish for later identification. They chose to sample three separate river sections (riffle, run, and pool) to capture a representative sample of fish from each environment. Once the fish were captured, they were identified and classified based on physical properties right on the riverbank before being let go.

 This field experience was very well received by the students. They were enthusiastic, worked very hard, and did a very good job “getting their feet wet” in these techniques. The outside conditions were absolutely perfect and the CRST EPD staff did a fantastic job showing how professionals conduct these assessments.

 We ended the day with a trip to a different section of the Cheyenne River , by the intake station for the Tri-County Water Association’s water delivery system. We launched an EPA sampling boat and shuttled students and materials to a point about five miles upstream. The reason for this was the time and difficulty required to reach this point by land would have been prohibitive.

 Once all students and staff were on site, we set up our equipment and began shore fishing for larger fish. It is important to catch larger predatory fish because the methylated mercury compounds (the type that are most harmful to humans) accumulate in the food chain and are amplified in top predators, such as large fish. We then sent a group of students with EPD staff to set up a net to catch fish near Foster Bay . Students were fascinated with the massive silt and sediment infiltration near Foster Bay , and were amazed at the dramatic reduction in the size and quality of the ecosystem there.

We wanted to set nets at Foster Bay because that is where the highest concentration of sediments are entering this ecosystem. We would expect to find higher bioaccumulations of mercury and other heavy metals at this location.

 When the fish netting group returned to the main group, EPD staff led discussions and demonstrations about water sampling, fish mercury testing protocols, and lab procedures following field-testing. While great conditions for people don’t always make perfect conditions for fish to be caught, we did manage to catch one sizeable fish (in addition to the dozens of fish caught earlier) on which to demonstrate fish mercury testing protocols. Students were fascinated with the plug sampling technique, in which a shallow core biopsy is removed from the side of a fish for testing, after which the fish receives a salve and is released. We ended the day with a boat ride and caravan back to headquarters.

 This field experience was very popular with the students, and should become a larger part of our experience in future years. Students were able to do hands-on work and participate in every aspect of this sampling while simultaneously enjoying the stories of the EPD staff. They learned about sampling and genuinely and thoroughly enjoyed themselves.

 We finished the week with a day in the lab at Presentation College Lakota Campus, where we classified invertebrates gathered during the field work the previous day. We also discussed mercury and heavy metal contamination, and the history of Black Hills gold mining and the relationship of mining to our current environmental impact issues.

 On Monday of the second week we were on our way to the 480 acre western Black Hills landholding that was awarded to the Tribes in a recent CERCLA victory over Homestake Mining Corporation. While on the way to the site, we stopped in Spearfish, SD, and toured the Pope and Talbot Lumber Mill and to discuss the impact of lumber production on the Black Hills ecosystem and to see firsthand how logs are processed.

 The CRST EPD had sent an advance party to prepare the campsite, and when we arrived in the Black Hills we met up with them. After a discussion of our mission and a safety briefing, the students set up camp and spent the rest of the evening enjoying the outdoors.

 On Tuesday we met with consultants from Plateau Engineering from Denver, CO. Students divided into groups and collected and identified specimens of plants and animals from several wide regions for inclusion in an overall catalogue of organisms on the site. Students learned that the EPD can do a better job at assessing future environmental damage if they do a very accurate baseline survey before any damage has occurred, or at least take a “snapshot” of this acreage in its present state prior to any future activity. This was a very beneficial experience for students, and several students really showed both their interest and strong ability in field science and specimen collection. Students verbally expressed a sincere gratitude for being able to visit and take part in this program on that specific piece of land, and for being allowed to work so closely with EPD staff.

It was great to see kids catching butterflies, snakes, and tadpoles; pushing their way through the dense vegetation to gather a specimen; and taking field notes on what they learned. While on the site the students explored an open cut test mine and even completed a timed GPS field course (GPS, or Global Positioning Systems are important because this technology allows EPD staff to return to an exact sampling location for testing). Students also were afforded the rare and immeasurable privilege of exploring an acreage once (and again) occupied by their people. I guarantee you they will never forget this experience, and if this program is continued, this trip and field excursion absolutely must be included.

 Later that evening we traveled back to Spearfish and had our evening meal at the Spearfish City Park . The D.C. Boothe Fish Hatchery is located next to the park. We thought it would be a very useful experience for students to see the fish production operation at the oldest continuously operated hatchery in the Black Hills, and to learn more about fish species and lifecycles, and to get “up close and personal” with the fish. This was a smart stop, because many students had never visited this facility.

The next morning we departed camp and visited Devil’s Tower. This had little to academics and a lot to do with the plain old fun! Then we proceeded homeward.

 Thursday morning students were back in the classroom attending lectures about epidemiology and disease transmission and how what we have done in class and in the field pertains to environmentally associated disease. Students learned the history of disease, the ways in which diseases are transmitted, and how disease investigations are conducted by professional investigators in real life. Toward this end I divided students into groups and isolated them in their own “investigative units”. Then I gave them case control cards for suspected or confirmed cases of an unknown disease event and set them on a path toward the discovery of the causative agent (in this case, causative agents), the method of transmission, and the prevention and treatment options.

 I have conducted many epidemiology exercises in the past, and they are excellent opportunities to see who organizes, tracks, and assimilates information about complex and multi-faceted issues in real-time; in other words, determine who thinks like an epidemiologist. Students finish the experience by detailing in a large group session what their explanation of the disease cluster was, their best guess as to the cause, and their explanation about how it occurred.

 This was a real eye opener for me as an instructor and former state disease investigator and field epidemiologist. One of the students (who had always been a solid contributor) absolutely came alive during this section of the course. I swear to you this kid thinks like a disease investigator with years of experience and is truly a “natural’. I told him and the class that if I were hiring right now with a health or environmental science department for a vacant position, I would offer him the job on the spot! How in the world would we have ever known about this talented student without this course? Obviously, he (like so many other talented Native American students) would not have been discovered.

 On the final day, students conducted environmentally related computer research on any subject that was of interest to them, and presented reports on their findings. This was again held in the computer laboratory of Presentation College . It was a valuable experience because CRST EPD staff often must research key issues through computer searches, and students need to see the sheer volume of information out there on these complex and interrelated topics.

 We feel it is important to have students try various technologies (i.e., probes, GPS units, microscopes, computers, etc.) not only to become well-rounded students, but also to realize the great variety of tasks that confront environmental scientists every day. Students need to know it is not unusual for EPD staff to assembling a testing apparatus in the morning (after changing a tire on an all-terrain vehicle), test water at two sites before noon, complete some computer research by three, and work on samples in the lab before the day ends. We need to teach multitasking to these students at a young age and help them to appreciate that developing a variety of skills increases their value to the CRST EPD. 

 My overall impression is that this year was noticeably better in virtually all aspects than last year, the whole program had a smoother flow, and students were even more active and involved than students in the project last year. I think CRST EPD staff shared this impression, and I feel it is attributable to better organization and a clearer mission.

 Student Comments

 -“I thought this course was awesome. This was the coolest thing I have ever learned about. Mr. Peacock was an excellent teacher. He was cool, funny, and he was serious when he was teaching something. His instruction was great, I learned a lot……..if I could do it all over again I would, and I wouldn’t change anything.”

 -“To the entire staff at EPD, it was a great learning experience that we could use in the future. If there is any program that needs to keep going it is this one. I would like to thank Carlyle for all the trouble and hard work to help us do this.”

 -“The insect survey couldn’t have been better. We scooped up actual bugs, they told us about them, and we got to touch them. I don’t think that could have been better.”

 -“Exploring the open pit mine was the one (experience) I liked the best. It showed how the structure of the earth can be changed by humans.”

 -“I would like to thank Carlyle for what he has done for us. The whole thing was a fun and interesting experience. The whole crew treated us nice and did plenty enough to help us out.”

 -“I was surprised at the things we did in the field, because it seemed like it was complicated but it was really fun. One of the things that was the most interesting to me is that identifying plants is very uncomplicated. I know (however) that it is way harder than what we had to do.”

 -“The GPS system was really fun and easy. I think I would like doing GPS.”

 -“We were on the 480 acres because we are very important to the Tribe and EPD. The ladies and gentlemen from the Environmental Protection Department are very enthused about having people like us do these kinds of surveys for them…….I personally would like to thank the EPD because they introduced me to new things and also helped expand my knowledge about a lot of things.”  

 -“My favorite (experience) was the plant survey because (while on the survey) I caught a comma butterfly and Mike (Plateau Engineering) was really happy!”

 -“Improvement I would make is to get more groups of kids out there (Tribal land in Wyoming ) throughout the next couple of years. Everything we did out there was great but it would have been better if we would have had more time to do each survey and go in more depth with them. I liked best the plant identification and the GPS survey. We were supposed to collect 10 different plants but I was very interested so I collected 20 some plants.”

 -“The instruction was really good. It helped me learn a lot about epidemiology. Mr. Peacock was funny. The staff was really cool. They let us have fun and at the same time they maintained their seriousness. It was an experience that I’ll remember for the rest of my life……and in my own words, “this program’s bad _ _ _! (Sorry bout that Peacock).”

 -“I learned more in the three days (basic science) we took notes than I have in the last 3 years of science at school.”

 -“It might seem that it was generous for the mining companies to give us 480 acres, but considering the fact that every part of the Black Hills belonged to the Tribe and the government took every bit of it, 480 acres isn’t that much land. Also, seeing how they contaminated our land and other land with mercury from their mining, giving us 480 acres will not come the least bit close to repairing the damage that they did to the tens of thousands of acres of our land.”

 -“Mr. Peacock was great! He taught us things that none of my school teachers could ever get through my head! He made it so everything was clear and that everyone knew what he was saying.”

 -“This course was the highlight of my summer and the most fun I’ve had in a long time.”