Changing the U.S. Census to Ensure Environmental Health

During her ORISE fellowship, Gaida Mahgoub had the opportunity to propose new questions to the U.S Census to better gauge national wastewater infrastructure.

 

Growing up in Sudan, Gaida Mahgoub personally experienced the negative health impacts of polluted water, lack of regulation, and air pollution in her community. To her surprise, she noticed similar environmental health concerns while attending college in the United States. That’s when she knew that she wanted to pursue a career studying and addressing problems with environmental health. Mahgoub went on to complete a bachelor’s program in public health and earned a master’s degree in Environmental Health Science.

Mahgoub heard of the ORISE fellowship program with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) from talking with a classmate. She knew she wanted quality research experience in environmental health studies, so she went on to apply and was later accepted.

The EPA Research Participation Programs provide college students, recent graduates, and university faculty opportunities to participate in current environmental research in areas such as air and radiation, water quality, solid waste and emergency response.

Mahgoub’s fellowship took place in Washington D.C. and was based from the EPA’s Office of Water. While there her research focused on wastewater management and data collection across the United States. She had the opportunity to develop a proposal to add a question to a U.S. Census survey that would ask about wastewater infrastructure across the nation.

When asked how her efforts would impact the average American, Mahgoub says that by providing data on wastewater infrastructure to government officials, it will allow for proper funding and regulation to be put towards the needs in those areas, ultimately to protect human health.

It took Mahgoub over a year to develop her proposal. There was no recent Census data available on septic and waste systems on the national level, but a 2017 housing survey revealed that approximately 20% of American homes are connected to septic systems. Mahgoub knew that many of these homes are located miles apart, and that homeowners, as opposed to the state, were responsible for taking proper measures to ensure the safety of those systems. As part of her fellowship, she tracked down sources of septic system data and hosted webinars that covered wastewater information databases currently in use by some states. Additionally, she held a seminar with the U.S. Department of Agriculture on wastewater financing. Through her and her team’s combined efforts, Mahgoub’s proposed wastewater question was deemed as having merit and will undergo field testing by U.S. Census in 2019. If approved after this initial trial, data on wastewater infrastructure and environmental health will be available in 2025 from these Census surveys.

Mahgoub says that her favorite part of the program was the opportunity to use her skills to provide useful information and create change. She also cites her team members as a highlight of her fellowship experience.

“I am blessed to have supportive mentors who encourage me to grow and gain new skills, attend trainings, and present at conferences.”

Mahgoub plans to pursue a PhD in Environmental Health to gain more skills in research and data analysis. She has a desire to conduct larger population studies and develop effective solutions for those facing environmental health concerns due to improper wastewater management.

The EPA Research Participation Program is administered by the Oak Ridge Institute for Science and Education (ORISE). ORISE is managed for the U.S Department of Energy by Oak Ridge Associated Universities (ORAU).