A Community-Driven Intervention in Tuftonboro, New Hampshire, Succeeds in Altering Water Testing Behavior

By Paul, Michael P.; Rigrod, Pierce et al. | Journal of Environmental Health, December 2015 | Go to article overview

A Community-Driven Intervention in Tuftonboro, New Hampshire, Succeeds in Altering Water Testing Behavior


Paul, Michael P., Rigrod, Pierce, Wingate, Steve, Borsuk, Mark E., Journal of Environmental Health


Introduction

Approximately one-sixth of U.S. households obtain drinking water from a private well (Kenny et al., 2009). In New Hampshire, more than 40% of the population obtains household water from an unregulated well (Figure 1) (Kenny et al., 2009). Under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) regulates public drinking water supplies by establishing maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) and delegating enforcement to states and tribes to ensure water systems conform with the MCLs (Levine, 2012; Tiemann, 2010). The SDWA defines a contaminant as "any physical, chemical, biological, or radiological substance or matter in water." Private well water is not tested for compliance with MCLs unless it (1) provides piped water for human consumption to at least 15 service connections (community water systems) or (2) regularly serves at least 25 of the same people for 60 days a year (non-transient, non-community water systems) (Tiemann, 2010; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [U.S. EPA], 2012a). Therefore, households with wells are responsible for regular water testing to detect contaminants and for applying treatment when necessary.

Potential Human Health Effects of Drinking Water From Private Wells

Untreated water from private wells can be a source of unsafe levels of contaminants (Table 1) (Charrios, 2010; Committee on Environmental Health & Committee on Infectious Diseases [CEHCID], 2009; Walker, Shaw, & Benson, 2006). Ingestion of contaminated water can cause both acute and chronic illness and certain contaminants are particularly hazardous to fetuses, infants, and children (Brender et al., 2013; CEHCID, 2009; Dangleben, Skibola, & Smith, 2013; Farzan, Karagas, & Chen, 2013; Hexemer et al., 2008; Hilborn et al., 2013; Naujokas et al., 2013; Rahman et al., 2010; Reynolds, Mena, & Gerba, 2008; Smith & Steinmaus, 2009). Bacteria, viruses, and parasites cause gastrointestinal illnesses; contaminants, such as radon, arsenic, chromium, and trichloroethyl ene are carcinogenic; and studies associate consumption of nitrates with a host of health effects and abnormal fetal development (Ward et al., 2005). Few studies have explored complex mixtures of contaminants and their additive or synergistic effects on health (Ryker & Small, 2008).

In New Hampshire wells, several contaminants are found at levels of concern, including arsenic, radon, and uranium. Low levels of arsenic are likely in nearly 40% of New Hampshire's groundwater (Figure 2) (Ayotte, Cahillaine, Hayes, & Robinson, 2012). Public health officials estimate that approximately one in five New Hampshire wells has arsenic in excess of the U.S. EPA MCL of 0.01 mg/L (Montgomery, Ayotte, Carroll, & Hamlin, 2003). Arsenic is a concern due to both its status as a class 1 carcinogen (Anders et al., 2004) and its place atop of the 2011 Priority List of Hazardous Substances published by the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, which is a ranking of substances based on a combination of their frequency, toxicity, and potential for human exposure at Superfund sites (Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, 2011). The major concern of ingesting inorganic arsenic is cancer, but dermatological, developmental, neurological, respiratory, cardiovascular, immunological, and endocrine effects are also evident (Hughes, Beck, Chen, Lewis, & Thomas, 2011; Martinez, Vucic, Becker-Santos, Gil, & Lam, 2011; Naujokas et al., 2013; Nuckols et al., 2011; Parvez et al., 2013; Rahman et al., 2010). Evidence is growing that links prenatal and early-life exposure to arsenic with long-term health implications (Farzan et al, 2013) and deleterious effects on the immune system (Dangleben et al., 2013).

Radon is also commonly present in New Hampshire well water. Approximately 50%-60% of all private drilled wells in New Hampshire produce water with radon concentrations between 300 and 4,000 picocuries per liter (pCi/L) (New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services, 2009). …

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