NIH Record - National Institutes of Health

‘Science Friday’ Film Highlights NIEHS Grantee

NIEHS grantee Dr. Karletta Chief
NIEHS grantee Dr. Karletta Chief, a member of the Navajo Nation, is a hydrologist at the University of Arizona, where she works with three NIEHS-funded centers.

Photo:  Science Friday

NIEHS grantee Dr. Karletta Chief caught the attention of the folks behind Breakthrough: Portraits of Women in Science, a collection of short films sponsored by Science Friday and the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The film on Chief, Breakthrough: Bitter Water, is the sixth and final film in the series. It tells the story of her family roots and the goals of her scientific research.

Chief, who is a member of the Navajo Nation, is a hydrologist at the University of Arizona, where she works with three NIEHS-funded centers. She directs the Community Engagement Core of the Superfund Research Program, is an advisory board member of the Center for Indigenous Environmental Health Research and is a pilot researcher with Southwest Environmental Health Sciences Center.

In 2015, the Gold King Mine Spill released mining waste into the Animus River in Colorado. Chief is studying three Navajo Nation communities downstream, which were affected by the spill—Shiprock and Upper Fruitland in New Mexico and Aneth in Utah. The project is looking at the short-term exposure and risk perceptions in the affected communities.

An important aspect involves reporting research findings at community teach-ins, where Chief typically makes presentations in the Navajo language.

In the latest update, they reported early findings on lead, arsenic and manganese levels in water, sediment, house dust and agricultural and residential soil, as well as in blood and urine samples collected by Navajo community health workers.

To date, most of the analyses show low or no levels of concern. However, spikes occur in the river during high-flow snow runoff events.

“Karletta’s research has a vital connection to the communities she is involved in,” said NIEHS health scientist administrator Dr. Symma Finn. “Her work serves the people who live there, at the same time as it advances the science. For example, with intimate knowledge of lifestyles and environmental conditions, she was able to identify exposure pathways that others missed.”

The video is available at—Kelly Lenox

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The NIH Record, founded in 1949, is the biweekly newsletter for employees of the National Institutes of Health.

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