Partnering with fishers to promote healthy fish consumption

“My vision for the Duwamish is a clean river, not just for my family but for all Cambodians, Vietnamese, Mexicans, and other communities that use the river.” – Soun-Hour Pov, Community Health Advocate 

Many immigrants and refugees were fishers before they came to the United States. Now living in Seattle, these fishers naturally turn to the Duwamish River – Seattle’s only river – to continue fishing. But not everything in the river is natural.

Going over safe and healthy seafood to catch along the Duwamish River.

The Duwamish River is contaminated by toxicants from a history of industrial use that made the river a hazardous waste disposal site. In early 2000s, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) named the river a Superfund site, signifying it as one of the most toxic sites in the country. They then began leading the cleanup process of chemical pollution (such as PCBs). All fish, crab and shellfish that spend their entire lives in the river, however, still remain toxic to consume. Migratory salmon are one of the few exceptions as they do not reside in the polluted river sediment.

Not everyone has easy access to that knowledge. ECOSS has been working with Public Health of Seattle & King County (PHSKC) to train community members to become community health advocates who then disseminate information on healthy fishing to their .

Hear from two of the community health advocates in interviews with Voices for Clean Water.

Fishers outreach at Spokane Bridge in Seattle.

Learn more about EPA’s Fun to Catch, Toxic to Eat program!

Under this Public Health program for EPA, ECOSS hires from within the communities we serve to promote environmental justice. Working within Vietnamese, Cambodian and Latinx communities for many years, we complement PHSKC with expertise in community engagement and culturally-appropriate outreach.

Through this program, community members learn from each other and dialogue with PHSKC and EPA to protect their health while continuing fishing traditions.

Thank you PHSKC and EPA for partnering with us to help protect the health of diverse communities!

Congratulations to the Community Health Advocates!

For some, this was the first graduation ceremony they had ever attended. The excitement was palpable. But this was no regular graduation ceremony.

This was the graduation of some of the most creative members of Seattle’s Latino/a, Vietnamese and Khmer communities, celebrating their completion of training to become Community Health Advocates. Over the previous few months, ECOSS facilitated training about local environmental health risks and helped the advocates practice their outreach to communicate these risks to their communities. This is in partnership with King County Public Health under the auspices of the Environmental Protection Agency.

Group photo of all Community Health Advocates and facilitators. Photo Credit: Hannah Letinich.

Raising awareness about environmental health requires actively engaging community members. This means doing away with word-dense information packets. Instead, community leaders instill their culture into the outreach lessons.

And the graduation ceremony would not be complete without the same level of creativity! Though there were inspirational, heartfelt graduation speeches aplenty, the Community Health Advocates and facilitators also strengthened their relationships with team building activity, such as an interactive string game.

Interactive string game. Photo Credit: Hannah Letinich.

Ultimately, this project is not just about training health advocates; it is also about helping community members become community leaders. Advocates are empowered to be the voice for their communities in engaging public agencies, and they build skills that will benefit future career paths.

After graduation, these community health advocates are raising awareness and engaging their communities about the contamination issues of the Duwamish River and about healthy seafood choices. We look forward to seeing their creativity in promoting environmental health for all!

The Community Health Advocates program is part of Seattle and King County’s Public Health department, which is funded through EPA as part of the Fun to Catch, Toxic to Eat Program for the Lower Duwamish Waterway Superfund Site.

Sophorn Sim Named a Puget Sound Future-maker

Getting used to a new region can be daunting. Where do you shop for groceries? How do you connect with your neighbors? What customs should you be aware of? For immigrants and refugees, potential language and cultural barriers make this adjustment period extra difficult. And these difficulties can have adverse health effects, such as unknowingly consuming contaminated seafood.

But Community Outreach Associate Sophorn Sim is training community members to be advocates for healthy food and to raise awareness of the chemicals in the Duwamish River, drawing from her own experiences as a refugee. The Seattle Globalist’s recently featured her in their Puget Sound Future-maker series! Congratulations Sophorn!

By training local community members, we meet communities where they are – in their language, through their culture – to promote healthy, thriving communities.

Learn more about our New Arrivals program