Our underlying premise is that we can have a greater and more sustained impact on public health outcomes by building the capacity of existing community-serving organizations while at the same time communicating directly with community members. Partnerships are crucial to the success of our work because our partners help us identify and communicate with community members that are affected by environmental contaminants and hazardous waste sites. The CEC strengthens the Program's partnerships by facilitating reciprocal communication between community members, community leaders, community-serving organizations and our research team. This model provides opportunities for collaboration on programs and projects to minimize environmental health risks and consequences.
Communities Affected by Arsenic and Mercury
The primary efforts of the Dartmouth CEC focus on four specific communities in Northern New England:
- Private drinking water well owners;
- Consumers of food products of concern;
- Parents, expectant parents and their providers; and
- Science students at high schools located near Superfund sites.
These communities offer an outstanding opportunity for mutually beneficial interaction. To capture the time, attention, and trust of these undoubtedly busy segments of the population, we facilitate a continuous dialogue with community-serving organizations and leaders that work directly with these communities.
Parents and Healthcare Providers
Our research is especially relevant to parents and health care providers because a growing number of studies show that early life exposure to arsenic and mercury can have prolonged and profound health effects. Our CEC is therefore engaging new and expectant parents and those who provide them with healthcare services, including OB/GYNs, midwives, and pediatricians.
New and expectant parents are typically quite sensitive to issues of risk to their child and so are likely to engage in risk reduction behaviors if they have adequate access to actionable information. Further, since new and expectant parents regularly visit providers and rely heavily on them as trusted sources of information, we believe it is a paramount opportunity to inform families about arsenic and mercury. In addition to interacting directly with individual patients and physicians, we also engage with the organizations that train, coordinate, and inform healthcare professionals.
Private Well Owners and Town Officials
A major goal of the CEC is to inform households that obtain their drinking water from private wells that their water is potentially contaminated with arsenic. Because under current EPA regulations there is no federal agency mandated with ensuring the safety of privately owned wells, we see town officials are as key partners in our engagement activities concerning arsenic in these communities. In New England, the Town Manager is the Chief Administrative Officer of the town and is responsible for implementing all policies adopted by the Selectboard, as well as for overseeing the day-to-day operation of the town's functional departments, including departments of health. Therefore, we are working with towns, particularly those in areas of New Hampshire that are known to be at risk.
External Resources for Well Owners and Town Officials:
U.S. EPA: Private Drinking Water Wells
Estimated Probability of Arsenic in Groundwater from Bedrock Aquifers in New Hampshire, 2011
U.S. EPA: Safe Drinking Water Hotline
CDC: Private Ground Water Wells
The Private Well Class
Water Quality Interpretation Tool
Consumers and Consumer Cooperatives
Our recent research is relevant to consumers of food and beverage products that potentially contain arsenic and mercury. We identified this community after our Trace Elements Analysis (TEA) Core identified arsenic at levels of concern in rice, rice products, and toddler formula, and Project 5 found significantly higher arsenic levels in the urine of pregnant women who ate rice than those who did not. The recent national news attention given to arsenic in apple juice and toddler formula has also prompted a steady stream of inquiries and requests for interviews of Dartmouth SRP investigators.
High School Science Students and Educators
Engagement of students is an opportunity to stimulate broader community interaction with our science while creating informed young citizens. We are currently working work with the Schoodic Education Research Center (SERC) Institute, to expand the scope of their innovative Acadia Learning high school science curriculum. The Acadia Learning program involves teachers and students in the collection of local soil, plant, and macroinvertebrate samples that are then analyzed to determine mercury content. Although a variety of samples are typically collected, it has been the collection of dragonfly larvae that has captured the interest of many of the students. It is for this reason that we have come to refer to this effort as the Dragonfly Program.
In the fall of 2012, teachers at Gorham High School, which is downstream from a superfund site in Berlin, NH, introduced the Dragonfly Program to students and they began sampling in September. The unit will also enable students to learn about the history of the superfund site. Celia Chen's lab will analyze the samples for students and visit the classrooms to discuss sampling.
The EPA included the Berlin site, a former chlor-alkali facility, on the Androscoggin River, National Priorities List in September 2005, and the remedial investigation began in 2006. As revealed by samples collected and analyzed by Dartmouth in collaboration with federal agencies, mercury has settled in soil in Gorham near a bend in the river. Fish consumption advisories are currently in place for the entire Androscoggin River, and wildlife officials remain concerned about seven notable bird species that are known to live or feed close to the site.