HOGANSBURG – The St. Regis Mohawk Tribe’s environmental division is trying to collect 75 lower jaws from deer killed by hunters on the reservation.
They need the jaws to monitor the amount of fluoride in deer and to see if it has reached levels that forced the slaughtering of cattle on the reservation in the past.
The effort is part of a three-year study funded by a $125,000 grant from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency that also included testing fluoride levels in vegetables grown in gardens on the reservation, said Angela B. Dunn, an air quality manager for the tribe’s environmental division.
The tribe has been collecting deer jaws since 2004.
Separate from this study, the tribe and Alcoa have jointly monitored fluoride levels in various patches of grass on the reservation and by the Alcoa east plant for the past five years. In the 1980s, high levels of fluoride were noticed in cattle on the reservation. The Mohawk tribe settled for $464,000 from Alcoa after agreeing not to sue the company for damage to cattle and vegetation.
Fluoride is a potentially poisonous byproduct of aluminum production. While much of it is captured and treated, some is released into the atmosphere. Fluoride settles in grass and is believed to harm grazing cows. A 1979 study by Cornell University, Ithaca, found the cows on Cornwall Island, inside the reservation, were suffering from severe fluoride poisoning.
Fluoride levels on the reservation have shown improvement since then.
“It’s gone down. I can’t say it’s completely gone away, but it’s gone done,” Ms. Dunn said.
High fluoride levels in humans causes arthritis.
“It’s a crippling arthritis, where bones begin to deteriorate,” Ms. Dunn said.
Vegetables grown in reservation gardens are checked, she said, because many Mohawks depend on them for a clean and natural source of food. However, if nourished by water or soil contaminated by fluoride, that produce could be harmful.
The tribe is also collecting samples of deer livers, kidneys, muscle and femurs, or leg bones.
For more information, or to donate a sample from a deer killed on the reservation, call the tribe’s environmental division at 1 (518) 358-5937.