Review assesses contaminants in wells’ communities’ drinking water

Oct. 6, 2023
A recent literature review confirms that people living on tribal lands or in minority communities are disproportionately affected by toxic contaminants in drinking water.

A new literature review assesses the levels of arsenic, fracking fluids, lead, nitrates, chlorinated disinfection by-products, PFAS, and uranium in wells and community water systems in the United States.

The warns that water from many wells and community water systems contains unsafe levels of toxic contaminants, as shared in a press release from the University of New Mexico Health Sciences Center.

The review in the Journal of Exposure Science and Environmental Epidemiology also finds that people living on tribal lands or in minority communities are disproportionately affected and predicts that climate change will make it harder to locate safe sources of drinking water.

The paper assesses seven known contaminants that often find their way into drinking water: arsenic, fracking fluids, lead, nitrates, chlorinated disinfection by-products, manmade chemicals known as PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) and uranium. The ability to detect and remove these substances from drinking water varies widely.

The seven contaminants represent a small fraction of the thousands of the chemical agents present in drinking water, the authors report. And to complicate matters, two or more contaminants may be present in a water source, presenting the possibility of synergistic effects.

Larger water systems have the ability to remove or dilute the concentrations of some contaminants, but many Americans lack even that minimal protection.

The researchers estimate that there are about 150,000 public water systems in the U.S., about one-third of which are community water systems serving about 320 million Americans – 95% of the population. Ninety-one percent of the community water systems serve fewer than 10,000 people – covering 52 million in all, while more than 43 million Americans rely on private wells for drinking water.

The authors say their paper “highlights the need for a concerted effort to invest in upgrading our drinking water infrastructure, strengthen drinking water standards, develop and implement enhanced water treatment, collect and disseminate monitoring data, and require more stringent chemical safety testing.”