The purpose of the LEAP-HIGH project is to develop community-based prioritization of environmental risks for the San Luis Valley. Though clearly defined geographically, the SLV is made up of diverse rural communities, many with very long (8 or 9 generations) histories on the land. Some of these communities, such as in Conejos and Costilla counties, have a mistrust of outside interference in community issues. In order to optimize the effectiveness of this project, and overcome the mistrust and apathy that exist in many Valley communities, we will work with the well-established and highly trusted public nursing community in gathering and disseminating information, and collecting future data. We have partnered with the public nursing community as we did free well testing under the EPA CPS grant over the past three years, and we will expand on that collaboration. Under the Colorado Public Health Act of 2008, the public health sector has been mandated to investigate and diagnose health problems and health hazards in the community, and to inform, educate and empower individuals about health issues, and to mobilize collaboration to identify and solve health problems. We believe that by partnering with the public health nurses, we will build a foundation for an environmental health component that is sustainable well into the future. We will collaborate with the nursing community to hold public meetings and gain public input, educate and inform about relevant issues, find and assess all sources of available data including the Toxic Release inventory (TRI), and incorporate environmental concerns into public health service.
We will also communicate with the school districts in the six Valley counties. We will present in high school science classes, and solicit participation in an environmental science component to be added to their curriculum. This would encourage students to do environmental science fair projects related to their local community situations, and to become more involved in local environmental health issues.
As problems are identified, the project will look for additional sources of funding in order to gather more information and conduct necessary testing. We will continue to add partners to the collaborative, as we identify sectors that lack representation or as education and outreach efforts attract more interest. We are hopeful that through the use of the partnership, the nursing community, and the high school students, a momentum and infrastructure will be built that will enable us to be self-sustaining. With this structure, new problems can be addressed as they arise, and new solutions incorporated into existing programs.
The Project will gather information to help the SLV community understand the potential sources of toxic pollutants. Further Partnership meetings, in which a Facilitator will be used in order to insure that all Partners can participate fully, will determine priorities for identification of risks. The Project will hold community meetings (two in each of six counties) and other forums in order to assess public concerns about environmental contaminants, and to educate the public about issues which are brought forward. Additionally, a researcher will be used to gather information which has already been assessed (i.e., EPA testing from 2006, GIS data, mining activity, air-quality testing conducted by CDPHE and Great Sand Dunes National Park) as well as additional data, to help assess risks. The Project will network with other communities, including other CARE communities, to share information and ideas. A facilitator will be used at public meetings in order to insure that all parties are given appropriate opportunity for involvement. The Project will design and use GIS maps to help the community understand the risks and sources of those risks. We will also use data from EPA’s Toxic Release Inventory (TRI) in our analysis.
Local resources, including the expertise, cultural, multi-generational understanding and connections, and the networking capabilities of the partnership will be used. We will work with the county nursing services to network with the local communities, and to support the nursing communities learn more about the environmental risks and related health issues in their areas. All county nursing services, as well as present LEAP-HIGH partners, have bilingual capabilities, and presentations and materials will be provided in both Spanish and English.
This Project will build the long-term capacity of the community to continue to improve the local environment. Nurses will start to build databases of the problems that exist, the people that are affected, and the ways to mitigate environmental problem issues. The Colorado Public Health Act of 2008 has mandated that county nursing services pursue the building of environmental health infrastructure into their departments. This LEAP HIGH project will build the base to enable them to do this!