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Columbia University

Superfund Research Program

Community Engagement Core

Project Leader: Yan Zheng
Co-Investigator: Sara V. Flanagan (Lamont Doherty Earth Observatory of Columbia University)
Grant Number: P42ES010349
Funding Period: 2012-2021

Project-Specific Links

Project Summary (2017-2021)

Columbia’s Superfund Research Program (CU SRP) Center investigates the health effects, geochemistry, and remediation of arsenic (As), with a strong focus on groundwater. Its interdisciplinary teams of researchers work with government scientists to translate new findings into effective policies that reduce environmental exposures and improve human health.

The Community Engagement Core (CEC) serves to develop tools, resources, and strategies to build the capacity of individuals, communities, and government partners to reduce exposure to As through private well water. The CEC’s community of interest includes residents of Maine and New Jersey who drink private well water in As-affected areas. Researchers test intervention strategies centered on empowering individual well owners to take the actions necessary to ensure their safe quality drinking water.

The researchers promote and facilitate:

  • Testing of well water to identify As and other toxic hazards
  • Treating or avoiding well water to reduce exposure to these hazards
  • Maintaining treatment systems and monitoring treated water to ensure continued quality

Through surveys mailed to more than 2,000 households in As-affected communities in Maine, New Jersey, and Minnesota, the researchers have developed new understanding about the psychological, situational, and socioeconomic factors that influence As testing and treatment behavior; and the information and assistance needs of private well users. Specifically, the CEC’s aims are:

  • Increase well testing rates in at risk towns of Maine, New Jersey and Minnesota. Advise community and government partners to implement and evaluate community engagement strategies utilizing targeted and tailored messaging, delivered through traditional and innovative channels, with special consideration for socioeconomically vulnerable households. Assist partners to design and evaluate small-scale interventions to target both psychological (behavioral) and situational barriers to well testing. Potential strategies include school-based testing, public health notices, partnerships with health care providers, community events, and innovative cost models. Evaluate which are most efficient, effective (participation rate, wells tested, first-time tests), and/or most sustainable with regards to potential for scale-up within each state.
  • Develop strategies to motivate and assist protective mitigation behavior, which is the necessary next step to reduce exposure among households who have tested and found unsafe levels of arsenic. Concerns and challenges faced by households in mitigating As exposure will be solicited through survey and semi-structured interviews to inform engagement strategies and development of guidance materials for distribution by partners.
  • Build a community engagement portfolio for arsenic risk reduction applicable to other states. Lessons from the above activities will be interpreted for various stakeholders and to inform policy to form "tool-kits" for reducing cumulative impacts of arsenic exposure. In collaboration with the RTC, they work with partners to build capacity at the community, local, and state levels to support private well owners through all stages of exposure reduction.
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