Kayleigh Bhangdia, ’16 of Poughquag, New York, and Olivia Gamble, ’15 of Westfield, Massachusetts, are working with the Madison County Department of Health this summer. Kayleigh is using GIS (geographic information systems) to map private well water and potential water contaminants in Madison County, while Olivia is reviewing data on expecting and new mothers and their babies to learn more about breastfeeding rates and lead in the home.
Through her project, Kayleigh has learned that approximately 40% of households in Madison County rely on private water. Private wells are not regulated and not required to meet Clean Water Act standards. Homeowners are responsible for testing their own wells, and for paying for any necessary treatment of contaminated well water. Because many homeowners aren’t aware of potential well contaminants in the area, Kayleigh is mapping various factors that may possibly impact private wells, such as spill incidents, remedial sites and bulk storage locations. She is also mapping data on the cases of waterborne illnesses in Madison County over the past few years, in an attempt to determine a potential correlation of some illnesses to the locations of private wells. Kayleigh’s maps will be included in a grant application to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that would provide funds to assist with testing, treatment and education of private well water. Her maps will also be used to educate community members about sources of water contamination and the dangers associated with them so that they can ensure that their families are drinking clean, safe water.
Olivia is working with members of the department’s Preventative Community Health division in the Healthy Start Partnership as they create programs to promote healthy lifestyle choices for mothers and babies, and to inform women of the benefits of breastfeeding for mothers and babies. Olivia’s work with the department began with a collection of about 18 months worth of handwritten data sheets collected by the health department’s registered nurses. She recorded and categorized these files into spreadsheets, then analyzed the data for information about breastfeeding. She is looking at the data for a correlation between type of feeding chosen by the mother (breast and/or formula) and weight gain in the infant, in order to display a positive and greater association between infant weight gain and breastfed babies. She is also analyzing the data to determine whether certain areas of Madison County hold more breast- or formula-feeding mothers, which could then help to guide the Partnership in how it targets its Breastfeeding Cafés. Olivia’s work will leave the department with an organized data set that will give the Preventative and Community Health division valuable material which can be used to help mothers and babies, and the Healthy Start Partnership information to promote breastfeeding and healthy weight gain for infants.
Both projects are directly connected to these students’ intended career path. Olivia has just graduated from Colgate, and in the fall will pursue a Master of Public Health degree from Boston University’s School of Public Health. She intends to focus on researching and developing policies that promote healthy lifestyles for parents and children. Kayleigh intends to have a research-based career in public health or environmental health. She spent the spring in Durban, South Africa on a qualitative research project with an environmental NGO, which gave her an opportunity to understand the field of environmental health from a non-governmental perspective. “By working at the Department of Health this summer,” Kayleigh says, “I have learned a good deal about the role of a county level health department and the specific roles that health departments play at different levels of government. I was drawn to this opportunity because of my interest in learning more about the government side of public health and environmental health. I also wanted to put my knowledge of GIS and my love of mapping to use while getting even more involved in Madison County, a community that I have grown to love these past three years.”