Dowsing for Knowledge: Probing the Depth of Arsenic Awareness in Rural Newfoundland to Effect Change in Policy and Health Outcomes

Hewitt, Daniel and Graham, Wendy and Asghari, Shabnam and MacLennan, Cameron and Heeley, Thomas (2018) Dowsing for Knowledge: Probing the Depth of Arsenic Awareness in Rural Newfoundland to Effect Change in Policy and Health Outcomes. Research Report. Memorial University of Newfoundland, St. John's, Newfoundland and Labrador.

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Background: Arsenic is an odourless, colourless and tasteless carcinogen that can contaminate well-water. Research in Nova Scotia suggests that well-owners misunderstand the issues and risks related to arsenic and do not take necessary precautions. Rationale: Given that no similar study has occurred in Newfoundland, we examined knowledge gaps about arsenic and related water safety issues among well owners in three rural Newfoundland jurisdictions affected by arsenic (Cormack, New World Island, Gander Bay) and one control area unaffected by arsenic (Codroy Valley). Research Methodology & Approach: We mailed 1380 semi-structured surveys to the four regions, aiming to collect 100 surveys. Results: We received 247 responses (17.8% response rate). A very low response rate from Cormack (n=2) meant the community could not be included in most analyses. We conducted descriptive analyses and Chi Squares in SPSS. Discussion: While the majority of respondents in New World Island had previously tested their water for arsenic, most in Gander Bay and the Codroy Valley had not. Some respondents listed ServiceNL as their go-to tester for arsenic despite the fact that the organization can only test for coliforms, and some respondents also mentioned using sensory cues and ineffective purification strategies (e.g. boiling, using a Brita filter). Conclusion & Recommendations: This study revealed encouraging and concerning results that are informative for both the public and policymakers. We recommend the provincial government develop a new online well-water safety resource, devise strategies to clarify the limitations of ServiceNL water testing, and facilitate citizens’ access to affordable water tests for arsenic.

Item Type: Report (Research Report)
Item ID: 13981
Additional Information: 2017-18 Harris Centre RBC Waterresearch and Ooutreach Fund
Department(s): Divisions > The Harris Centre
Date: December 2018
Date Type: Publication
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