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A Refugee’s Special Power: Sophorn Sim Coaches Others Into Healthier Lives

This story originally aired on January 20, 2018.

Feeling out of place takes on whole new dimension when you’re in a foreign country. Perhaps no one understands this more than new immigrants and refugees. And there’s a woman who meets lots of them here in the Seattle area.

Sophorn Sim is an outreach worker for the environmental non-profit,ECOSS, connecting other refugees and new immigrants with resources and ways to live healthier lives.

Credit Bellamy Pailthorp / KNKX
Signs at the Spokane Bridge Fishing Pier warn of health risks from consuming resident seafood.

One place she’s done a lot of that lately is a fishing pier on the Lower Duwamish Waterway, which is also known for being a Superfund site in the heart of industrial Seattle. Signs here warn of the health risk from consuming anything but salmon from these waters.   

Despite that, the docks beneath the Spokane Street Viaduct and the West Seattle Bridge are one of the most popular areas for locals to catch fish.

“The thing is, the majority of people who fish are, you know, people of color, the non-English-speaking people. And the sign does not help them because they don’t read and write the language,” she says.

A public health study she worked on found at least a quarter of the anglers here still take home tainted crab, flounder, perch and other bottom fish. Many mistakenly think they can cook out contaminants such as PCBs if they use hot oil.   

In this story, she explains how her own experiences as a refugee from Cambodia in 1979 motivate her to keep teaching others how to identify and avoid such risks as they adapt to their new lives in the United States.    

Bellamy Pailthorp covers the environment for KNKX with an emphasis on climate justice, human health and food sovereignty. She enjoys reporting about how we will power our future while maintaining healthy cultures and livable cities. Story tips can be sent to