Is your water safe to drink? One USM nursing student wants to help you find out

Arsenic, a known carcinogen that causes several types of cancer, is a growing problem in Maine’s drinking water. And one University of Southern Maine (USM) School of Nursingstudent wants people to know about it.

Brent Kraushaar, a senior in USM’s Accelerated Nursing program, has launched an awareness campaign focused on the chemical properties of arsenic and its ability to contaminate Maine’s drinking water wells.

Through the USM School of Nursing’s L/A Community CARE Partnership — a clinical program that focuses on public outreach regarding cancer prevention — Kraushaar has produced a 15-minute webcast highlighting the dangers of arsenic, which he says is considered the world’s most significant chemical drinking water contaminant.

“My personal project this semester focuses on providing public education regarding arsenic contamination in private drinking water wells, and about new state money available to help financially disadvantaged Mainers treat/test their water,” he told the Fiddlehead Focus, which highlighted Kraushaar’s project in late June.

Arsenic, an odorless, tasteless element, is known to cause cancers of the skin, bladder and lungs, and has been found in dangerous levels in the groundwater in several regions of the state. Some of Maine’s water wells, Kraushaar said, have tested at over 50 times higher than the maximum “safe” concentration of of 10 micrograms per litre (mcg/L).

Kraushaar, 30, came to Maine from Southern California with the desire to live somewhere new and exciting, and was drawn to Southern Maine’s abundance of nursing programs. He said USM’s accelerated program was his best option.

“I’ve kind of always toyed with the idea of something health-related. I became an EMT and worked on an ambulance for a while and just decided this is the career I thought I would enjoy seeing myself working in,” he said, adding that his wife is also a nurse.

Previously, in Southern California, Kraushaar worked in government air pollution control. There, he inspected pollution-emitting facilities, reviewed environmental impact reports and calculated emissions in a variety of settings. That interest in environmental pollution, he said, poured over into his interest for examining arsenic once he came to Maine.

“(Arsenic) is a big issue and topic in Maine … and speaking with our partners in the community, they were saying there’s just not a lot of awareness.” data

The CARE Partnership, one of many within USM’s School of Nursing, partners students with professionals, members and organizations of Maine communities to share and teach cancer prevention strategies and awareness in a variety of settings with the overarching goal of promoting health and wellness.

Students may work in middle schools, high schools and on college campuses; in senior centers; within workplaces and in recreational settings where they gain experiential knowledge.

Cynthia Randall, assistant professor of nursing at USM and instructor of the CARE Partnership, said the program exposes students to diverse communities with various socioeconomic, ethnic, political and ideological backgrounds — an experience that puts them ahead of the curve for when they graduate.

“The experiential learning opportunities they have in this course can give them (such) experiences in leadership and leading health initiatives … that can give them that extra edge when looking for work after they graduate,” Randall said. “Nursing organizations look for these leadership characteristics in individuals … These partnerships allow students to have these unique opportunities to develop those leadership skills early.”

For Kraushaar — who will receive his bachelor’s degree at a pinning ceremony in late August — the time spent working with community populations gave him a deeper knowledge of Maine’s people, and what their needs are for care.

“Moving to Maine from another state and sort of realizing the differences within the state here politically and economically, being part of this university and being exposed to different facilities within the state” was beneficial, he said. “Maine is a unique setting.”

The CARE Partnership also taught him that nursing is a more complex profession than most generally assume.

“I think it’s easy for us in society and as students to just view a nurse’s role in the acute care setting,” he said. “The scope of nursing is so far beyond just bedside care in a hospital environment, and respecting that our role goes from prevention to treatment and this wide range of nursing care.”

That understanding, Randall said, is another benefit of the CARE Partnership and USM’s other community nursing programs.

“Our nursing students have the ability to assess, plan, implement and evaluate their nursing interventions in our community and reflect more deeply about an individual, family or population’s journey with health and wellness,” she said. “Their projects or nursing interventions in the community provide them with practical skills in leadership and leading initiatives on a larger scale impacting the population they serve.”

Watch Kraushaar’s presentation, “Arsenic in Public Drinking Water Wells: What You Should Know,” below, and call the Maine CDC public information line at (207) 287-4311 or visit the Maine CDC website for more information and factsheets.