Being an Intern at a Local Health Department
By Antonia R.
This summer, I am interning at St. Mary’s County Health Department (SMHD), in Maryland. I am one of the National Environmental Health Association interns and in my application, I talked about the importance of water quality in a community, focusing on arsenic in drinking water. Throughout my internship, I will work on what is known as the “Arsenic Project.” I will also have the opportunity to shadow various members of the Health Department.
For the first part of the project, I will work with ArcGIS, a mapping program, to map out arsenic levels throughout the county. St. Mary’s County is mostly rural and most of its inhabitants obtain their water from private wells. The SMHD must take water samples from any new or restored wells and then test for bacteria, nitrate, turbidity, and arsenic levels. Upon completion of the tests, the Environmental Health Department may grant the water a Certificate of Potability. In my project, I will use the data collected throughout the years via such testing, and then apply it on a map of the county. Then I will use a gradient to indicate the level of arsenic in response to the Maximum Contaminant Level discovered at a specific location.
The project has two main goals: to develop a model that shows arsenic levels against soil elevation and to identify hotspots of arsenic concentration to improve resource allocation from the Health Department. To achieve the goals, I will collaborate with St. Mary’s County IT support team to learn about ArcGIS in more detail and to develop the elevation map that I need, as well as meet with the Health Department’s epidemiologist to develop the algorithm that will model the high arsenic hotspots. This is a relatively new technology for SMHD, therefore I need the professional help of the IT department.
In addition to the main goals, we intend to educate home-owners about the effects of high arsenic concentration in drinking water and about arsenic removal methods. My mentor and I decided to modify existing documents for homeowners to make them more persuasive to the public. In this part of the project, I will apply my written communication skills in relation to the risk perception of the home owners and of the people living throughout the county.
This project is a great opportunity to apply a multi-faceted approach to solving the problem of arsenic in the county drinking water. We hope that we will be able to identify an efficient manner to allocate resources and to reach the community so that they will collaborate with the Health Department in addressing the treatment of their water.