About Us

The Community Environmental Health Laboratory was established at MDI Biological Laboratory in 2000. It is a unique research space where environmental health problems are addressed in collaboration with project partners, teachers, students, and others interested in making a difference in their communities.

In August 2018, the Community Lab received a 5-year NIH-National Institute of General Medical Sciences (NIGMS) Science Education Partnership Award (SEPA) to create and pilot a national model of STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education. The project, “Data to Action: A Secondary School-Based Citizen Science Project to Address Arsenic Contamination of Well Water” engaged students from Maine and New Hampshire as citizen scientists and provided them with the tools and skills to make sense of data so that their results could effect change in their communities.

In 2022, with a second NIH SEPA grant, this one through the National Institute of Nursing Research (NINR), the focus expanded from arsenic to other heavy metals such as manganese, lead, and uranium from both public and private drinking water sources. Students at participating schools throughout Maine and New Hampshire continue to collect drinking water samples and learn data literacy skills; however, in this iteration, there is a renewed focus on science communication. In order to make a difference in communities, we need to get our message across and clear and concise ways, using what we have learned from our drinking water dataset to tell a story that moves people to action.

The success and momentum of our school-based citizen science projects have led to the development of several other projects at the Community and Environmental Health Laboratory:

  1. Healthy Water, Healthy Aging: This project expands on the efforts of teachers and students in schools, reaching out to other community members who need to get their drinking water tested. The collection of drinking water samples is coupled with a drinking water survey to learn more about the risk of exposure in communities throughout Maine.
  2. Healthy Water, Healthy Aging on Maine’s Islands: Testing drinking water has been expanded to unbridged islands where residents have less access to resources. With support from the Island Institute, we have been joined by an Island Fellow who is working with island residents through education and outreach efforts. Transport to islands is facilitated by a collaboration with the Maine Seacoast Mission.
  3. Stemming the Tide of PFAS Contamination in Maine: This project started with the revelation that some rural schools in Maine have contaminated their drinking water by sending PFAS chemicals used in floor waxes and cleaning products into septic systems where they percolated through leach fields and into the groundwater. With support from Maine Laboratories, which is the first PFAS testing laboratory in Maine, we are working with residents in surrounding neighborhoods to test their water for PFAS and participate in a community-engaged research project to “Stem the Tide” of PFAS in our rural watersheds.

As we move forward with all of these projects, we are developing tools that will help to inform and engage the public in conversations about how to mitigate the impacts of toxic exposures and ensure a healthy future for all. These tools include those found on this website and the Community Environmental Health Laboratory’s online citizen science data portal, Anecdata.org.