Lower well water testing, treatment among N.C.’s underserved households

Aug. 10, 2023
Study finds that low-income, BIPOC households were significantly less likely to test and treat their well water than affluent households.

A new study published in Environmental Justice found that private well testing and treatment levels were significantly predicted by race and income, even though high levels of contamination were equally distributed across the research areas, according to a press release from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

“Although we found alarming levels of well water contamination in our study, what’s most troubling is that not everyone was equally aware of the problem,” said lead author Andrew George, community engagement coordinator in the Center for Public Engagement UNC’s Institute for the Environment. “You cannot see, taste or smell toxic metals in drinking water, so only households who are testing their private wells will be able to identify and address any problems. However, we found significant differences in levels of testing and treatment between income and racial groups.”

North Carolina leads the nation for most households relying on private wells as a primary source of drinking water, with one in four households on private wells. These wells are not regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, and most are not tested for contaminants, especially in low-income areas.

The research team assessed contamination levels of metals in private wells and analyzed differences in water quality and well stewardship among demographic groups. More than 67% of wells tested in the study exceeded a federal or state drinking water standard. Researchers also found white, affluent households had 10 times greater odds of testing their wells and four times greater odds of treating their water than low-income, Black, Indigenous and other People of Color (BIPOC) households.

This lack of testing and treatment may lead to low-income, BIPOC households experiencing a disproportionate burden of exposure to dangerous contaminants.

The team focused their study on regions impacted by the 2018 Hurricanes Florence and Michael and began sampling after the storms in Robeson, Northampton, Chatham and New Hanover counties. With the widespread flooding that accompanied the hurricanes, many communities were concerned about coal ash and other waste contaminating their water supplies.

“In working with N.C. communities to address well water quality, our overarching goal is to prevent or reduce exposure to contaminants,” said Kathleen Gray, a coauthor of the study and research associate professor in the UNC institute for the Environment. “These results suggest a need for strategic efforts to increase well testing and improve treatment efforts in communities that rely on private wells for drinking water.”

Sponsored Recommendations

SmartSights WIN-911 Alarm Notification Software Enables Faster Response

March 15, 2024
Alarm notification software enables faster response for customers, keeping production on track

Automated Fresh Water Treatment

March 15, 2024
SCADA, Automation and Control for Efficient and Compliant Operations

Digital Transformation Enables Smart Water

March 15, 2024
During this webinar we will discuss factors driving the transformation to digital water, water industry trends, followed by a summary of solutions (products & services) available...

Smart Water Solutions: Transforming the Water Universe

March 15, 2024
Water is our most valuable resource, and efficient and effective water and wastewater handling is crucial for municipalities. As industry experts, you face a number of challenges...