Internship Reflection

Mayela Gillan at Health Research for Action: Engaging and empowering communities to combat arsenic contamination

My internship experience helped me build on qualitative research skills like creating surveys, interviewing, and data analysis. I also got to advance my interpersonal and leadership skills, creating lasting relationships with our partnered school and community.
March 4, 2021
Mayela Gillan

This summer I worked with Health Research for Action (HRA) on their project centered on engaging and educating communities in Kings County, California on the arsenic contamination present in their groundwater. For this ongoing community-led project we focused on providing STEM activities to teach students about environmental health topics surrounding arsenic contamination in this community. We also aimed to increase the readiness and acceptability of the Electro-Chemical Arsenic Remediation (ECAR) water treatment system at our partnered school and in the general community. 

Arsenic is a naturally occurring contaminant which is present in the earth’s crust and can accumulate in the groundwater. Although it is naturally occurring, chronic exposures to arsenic can lead to many adverse health effects including cancer and lower IQ levels in exposed children. The current Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) for arsenic in our drinking water, set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, is 10 ug/L. At this level there is still a cancer risk of 7 people per every 1000 exposed which is the highest cancer risk for any regulated water borne contaminant in the U.S. The ECAR technology was created here at UC Berkeley by the Gadgil lab. This technology uses a filtration process that successfully removes arsenic contamination to 1 ug/L, well below the current MCL. HRA and the Gadgil lab have come together to offer an effective and efficient solution for our partnered school involving the implementation of a new water treatment system. Through this project we have fostered community trust and there is already excitement in the community around both the implementation of the ECAR system and the STEM education pieces for the students.

My internship experience was extremely beneficial to me and helped me build on qualitative research skills such as creating surveys, interviewing key informants, and qualitative data analysis. I also had the opportunity to advance my interpersonal and leadership skills in creating lasting relationships with our partnered school and community. Through this project I gained many valuable life skills and I sincerely appreciate the support I received from the Wallace Center, HRA, the Gadgil Lab, and our partnered community. 

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