In 2010, The Sierra Fund, in partnership with the nursing program at California State University Chico developed a project to pilot test environmental history forms at clinics in the region. The goals of this project were to:
- Learn whether patients were being exposed to toxins through eating fish or breathing dust around abandoned mines
- Familiarize Sierra clinics with environmental history forms, and promote establishment of the protocol
Although environmental exposures and related diseases are receiving more coverage, environmental history forms are not widely used by clinics. In a 2006 survey of rural Sierra health clinics, The Sierra Fund turned up some shocking results: none of the clinics collected environmental history information from their patients, and none provided information about the dangers of mercury in fish to their maternal patients.
An Environmental History Form is used to collect information about a patient’s exposures in the course of their daily activities—for example, what foods they eat, where they live, their occupation, and where they work. Environmental History information can help a doctor accurately diagnose and treat a patient. For example, knowing the age and condition of a patient’s house gives the doctor information about whether exposure to lead from paint may be an issue. In the case of Sierra Nevada communities where extensive historic mining occurred, there are two unique environmental exposure issues: eating locally-caught fish high in mercury, and exposure to heavy metals in dust while working or recreating around abandoned mines.
The environmental history form was administered at four participating clinics by nurses in the CSU, Chico nursing graduate program. Clinic wait time was used to complete the surveys—individuals waiting for an appointment were approached and asked if they would be willing to participate in the survey. A total of 223 individuals completed the interview.
Study results and followup recommendations were published in The Sierra Fund’s document Assessing Environmental Health Risks from Abandoned Mines in the Sierra Nevada, published in 2011.
Angler Survey Project – The Sierra Fund’s study to learn about mercury exposure potential from eating locally caught fish
Trails Assessment Project – The Sierra Fund’s study to learn about exposure potential from recreating on trails that go through historic mine sites