Dowsing for Knowledge: Probing the Depth of Arsenic Awareness in Rural Newfoundland to Effect Change in Policy and Health Outcomes
Arsenic is an ubiquitous trace element found in bedrock throughout the world. It is particularly prevalent in the bedrock in central parts of the island of Newfoundland but has been found in all areas of the island. Through a natural process of leaching, arsenic will enter into the ground water in areas with high level of arsenic in the bedrock.
Exposure to arsenic can occur by drinking such water (bathing in such water is not a route for significant exposure). Such exposure to level of arsenic over 10 parts per billion in drinking water can, over time, result in health risks (World Health Organization and Canadian Standard). The negative health consequences are in two general categories: 1. Increased risk of cancer (bladder, renal, lung, skin, etc.) and; 2) Metabolic consequences leading to impaired renal, liver, neurologic, reproductive and vascular function.
Rural populations throughout the world and certainly in Newfoundland and Labrador are dependent on well water. Such water has potential to have levels of arsenic over safe levels as a consequence of the above described processes. Unlike community water supplies that are monitored by government agencies, well water monitoring is the responsibility of the individual well owners. It is the experience of the investigators of this project, based on their work in rural Newfoundland, that the above facts are not well known to our rural populations or primary health care providers (family doctors, nurse practitioners) who care for these people. This research project has two objectives that will occur concurrently. 1) To determine by interview and survey the awareness of the arsenic issue in rural Newfoundland. We will look at the awareness in selected rural communities in Central and Western regions of the island. We will look at the awareness and knowledge in rural well owners and their family doctors and nurse practitioners in these areas. 2)Using the information we attain from 1 above we will work with experts in public health, adult education, the Regional Health Authorities, various Government agencies and particularly with well owners and their health care providers to develop ways to supply needed information on this topic. The information will need to be accurate, accessible, practical, ongoing and user friendly. In this way informed decisions can be reached by rural well owners and their health care providers on matters relating to arsenic. A detailed description of our project can be found by in our grant proposal to the Harris Centre RBC Water Research and Outreach Fund.