On November 13, 2018 The Sierra Fund (TSF) convened more than 50 community members for a free, two-hour discussion to explore unique exposures that impact Gold Country residents. TSF launched the Environmental Health Summit by delivering lightning talks on four issues: mercury in fish; dusty recreation on mine-scarred lands; water quality and access; and wildfire and air quality. A panel of four local experts reflected on the presentations and offered resources to confront these issues.
The last hour of the Summit was open for discussion and questions and TSF was excited to learn more about the interests of the public through robust audience engagement. Nearly 40 participants completed the Environmental Health Survey, a 30-question inquiry to help TSF better understand how our community members are impacted by environmental health issues.
What we learn from the survey will inform TSF’s Environmentally Healthy Communities Program, which aims to reduce public exposure to legacy mining contaminants and improve public access to clean water and air. Click here to take the survey. Responses can be emailed to firstname.lastname@example.org or mailed to The Sierra Fund at 103 Providence Mine Road, Suite 101, Nevada City, CA 95959.
Environmental Health Resources
Mercury in Fish
Fish consumption advisories are issued by the CA Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) and offer safe eating guidelines based on the level of mercury and other chemicals found in fish. The advisories contain three important components: 1) species, 2) population group and 3) frequency of consumption, which together provide information about which species of fish are safe to eat from where, by whom and how often.
- Look up fish consumption advisories for your favorite fishing destinations at https://oehha.ca.gov/fish/advisories
- Learn about TSF’s annual Post It Day volunteer event to post OEHHA advisories at regional lakes and reservoirs at https://sierrafund.org/projects/posting-fish-advisories/
Dusty Recreation on Mine-Scarred Land
Due to the unique geology of the Sierra Nevada, heavy metals and minerals co-occur with gold. During gold mining activity, naturally occurring arsenic, lead, chromium and asbestos once contained underground were brought to the surface, crushed and spread over the landscape. As a result, these heavy metals and minerals may be present at elevated levels in and around mine sites. TSF conducted a pilot study at recreational trails that intersect abandoned mine sites around Downieville, Nevada City and Foresthill to learn if heavy metals and minerals were present at unhealthy levels on popular trails.
- Read the report here: https://sierrafund.org/trails-assessment/
Additional resources to learn about the location of abandoned mines, how to stay safe when recreating around abandoned mines and efforts to clean up mine-impacted lands include:
- CA Department of Toxic Substances Control (DTSC) EnviroStor: https://www.envirostor.dtsc.ca.gov/public/
- CA Department of Conservation Abandoned Mine Lands Unit: https://www.conservation.ca.gov/dmr/abandoned_mine_lands
- US EPA Brownfields and Land Revitalization Program: https://www.epa.gov/brownfields
- US Mine Safety and Health Administration Stay Out-Stay Alive Campaign: https://www.msha.gov/sosa
Water Quality and Access
Nevada County’s water infrastructure, a legacy of the Gold Rush era, is aging and inefficient. There is concern about how well our built infrastructure can adapt to a changing climate, which affects how, when and how much water moves through the system. Regional water infrastructure requires attention and resources to sustain water quality and access. Get involved in decision-making processes that govern regional water planning and management by learning about and participating in:
- Cosumnes, American, Bear, Yuba (CABY) Integrated Regional Watershed Management (IRWM) Group: http://cabyregion.org/
- Mountain Counties Funding Area (MCFA) Disadvantaged Community Involvement Program (DACIP) – coming to the CABY region in early 2019: https://sierrainstitute.us/program/dactip/
- Nevada Irrigation District’s Raw Water Master Plan Update: https://nidwater.com/2018/11/public-input-workshops-planned-for-raw-water-master-plan-update-process/
Wildfire and Air Quality
Today’s forests are unhealthy and prone to severe wildfire. Wildfire smoke contains a number of air pollutants that impact human health, including particulate matter that can enter the respiratory tract and damage lung tissue. People with respiratory conditions such as asthma and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease are most impacted by smoky conditions. Protect your health by following the links below to sign up for Nevada County’s emergency alert system and air quality advisories, learn how to make your home and community more fire safe and get the best regional fire news:
- CodeRED emergency alert system: https://www.mynevadacounty.com/1293/CodeRED-Emergency-Alerts
- Northern Sierra Air Quality Management District: http://myairdistrict.com/
- California Smoke Information: http://californiasmokeinfo.blogspot.com/
- Fire Safe Council of Nevada County: http://www.areyoufiresafe.com/
- YubaNet: https://yubanet.com/
TSF would like to thank the Nevada County Department of Environmental Health for co-sponsoring the Environmental Health Summit, and the community members who participated for helping to promote environmental health in our region. We would also like to thank the four local experts who participated in a panel to help us better understand the issues and what local resources exist to confront them:
- Tom Last, Community Development Director, City of Grass Valley
- Amy Irani, Director, Nevada County Department of Environmental Health
- Shelly Covert, Spokesperson, Nisenan Tribe of the Nevada City Rancheria & Executive Director, California Heritage: Indigenous Research Project (CHIRP)
- Susan Rogers, Vice Chair, Coalition of Firewise Communities