The NIEHS Superfund Research Program (SRP) presents the fourth session in the Risk e-Learning series SRP Water Innovation - An Integrated Approach to Sustainable Solutions. Session IV, Communicating Risk and Engaging Communities: Arsenic and Well Testing, will feature efforts by several SRP Centers to engage communities on private water related to well testing and treatment alternatives.
The 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) regulates more than 170,000 public water systems to protect health, but not more than 13 million private wells. State and local government requirements for private well water testing are rare and inconsistent; the responsibility to ensure water safety remains with individual households. Over the last two decades, geogenic arsenic has emerged as a significant public health concern due to high prevalence in many rural American communities.
Rebecca Fry, Ph.D., Director of the UNC Superfund Research Program, will introduce the session describing the health effects associated with exposure to inorganic arsenic that include both cancer and non-cancer endpoints. Inorganic arsenic continues to poison the water of millions around the globe, including populations in the United States. She will detail research that highlights that exposures that occur during critical times of development, such as the in utero period, are associated with detrimental health outcomes in children. She will also highlight innovative public health strategies that are needed to improve this global health issue such as increasing awareness of the issues of contamination, and provision of cost-effective methods for remediation.
Yan Zheng, Ph.D., from the Columbia University SRP Center, will introduce research in communities in Maine and New Jersey that has identified behavioral, situational, and financial barriers to households managing their own well water safety, resulting in far from universal screening despite traditional public health outreach efforts. They have also observed significant socioeconomic disparities in arsenic testing and treatment when private water is unregulated. They conclude that achieving universal screening will require policy interventions, and that universal screening would reduce population arsenic exposure greater than any promotional efforts to date.
Mark Borsuk, Ph.D., from the Dartmouth College SRP Center will discuss his work to measure and improve rates of arsenic well water testing in New Hampshire. They designed and implemented a statewide survey to estimate rates of well water testing and treatment for arsenic. The survey helped them to identify barriers to testing and treatment and identify target populations that test and treat at particularly low rates. They then used this information to design, implement, and evaluate interventions to overcome the identified barriers and develop a toolkit to assist communities with planning interventions of their own.
Neasha Graves, from the UNC SRP Center, along with Caroline Armijo from Residents for Coal Ash Cleanup, will introduce a new initiative at UNC, implemented jointly with Residents for Coal Ash Cleanup in Stokes County, NC. Their shared purpose is to develop a better understanding of residents' exposure to toxic metals in well water and empower them to reduce or eliminate harmful exposures. This initiative includes a survey of residents who get drinking water from private wells combined with water, soil, and urine samples from a subset of these residents.
Janick Artiola, Ph.D., from the University of Arizona SRP Center, will highlight activities working alongside communities and government agencies to address arsenic in drinking water and private well testing in Arizona. These activities involve close partnerships with University of Arizona Cooperative Extension, ATSDR and the Arizona Department of Health Services. Examples include our work in Dewey-Humboldt, AZ, a town neighboring a Superfund site, that helped highlight the risk of arsenic exposure from both private and public water sources unrelated to issues arising from the Superfund site. They also have a long tradition of reaching out to rural private well owners through workshops and informational materials that highlight Arizona’s unique mineral-rich geology in relation to arsenic in drinking water exposure as well as water treatment options.