Public Health-Seattle & King County receives national recognition for advancing environmental justice

By Sinang Lee, Program Manager

Public Health’s Environmental Health Services Division’s Fun to Catch, Toxic to Eat Program for the Duwamish River Superfund site was one of 21 programs across the country to receive this year’s prestigious Model Practice Award by the National Association of County and City Health Officials (NACCHO). The award, as determined through a competitive, peer-reviewed process, celebrates local health departments for programs that demonstrate exemplary and replicable best practices in response to a critical local public health need.

Pictured: Khanh Ho, far left, with the Vietnamese Community Health Advocates on a boat tour outreach of the Duwamish River in 2018.

The program was recognized for building an innovative community participatory practice to advance environmental justice (EJ) at the Duwamish River Superfund site – reflective of the EJ principles of capacity-building, meaningful involvement, and empowerment. For decades, the historic polychlorinated biphenyls (PCB) pollution in south Seattle’s Duwamish River Superfund site has disproportionately impacted immigrant and refugee fishing communities. Health warning signs alone have not been effective in raising awareness among fishers who speak little to no English.

Since launching the program with the U.S .Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in 2017, the Public Health team – made up of Sinang Lee, Program Lead, Khanh Ho, Community Engagement Coordinator, and Kim Tippens, Program Evaluator – have centered the voices of affected fishing community members in guiding program development, implementation and evaluation. In 2018, Public Health trained 23 Community Health Advocates (CHA) from the Cambodian, Latino and Vietnamese immigrant fishing communities, a partnership with Just Health Action and Environmental Coalition of South Seattle (ECOSS).

Pictured: Kim Tippens facilitating the Community Steering Community session to develop a program plan in 2018.

Since then, the CHAs have prepared a program plan for the U.S. EPA, led over 70 community-based outreach and education reaching over 1600 community members, co-designed over 10 multilingual health promotion tools, such as this newly launched video series done in partnership with the Washington State Department of Fish and Wildlife, and advocated for community recommendations at the U.S. EPA’s Healthy Seafood Consumption Consortium.

“We are deeply honored to receive NACCHO’s Model Practice Award.  The award is evident of our value as a government agency in fostering collaborative and power-sharing spaces with communities. If it can be done within a Federal regulatory context, it can be done anywhere,” says Sinang Lee. Through direct engagement with CHAs and their networks, Khanh Ho also highlights “the importance of public agencies to invest in meaningful involvement, capacity-building and creating collaborative spaces with community members and organizations.”

On July 8, 2020, Sinang, along with Emma Maceda-Maria, who co-leads the Latino Community Health Advocate team, presented at the NACCHO Virtual 360 Conference about the program’s work, particularly how it has supported the advocates’ self-empowerment and collective power to address a longstanding environmental injustice in their communities.

Learn more about the Fun to Catch, Toxic to Eat Program at www.kingcounty.gov/duwamish-fishing. View more photos below.