Read the full article by Celeste Gracia and Josh Sullivan (WUNC)

“Most private wells in the United States are not tested for contaminants, and in North Carolina, more households rely on private wells as a main source of drinking water than in any other state.

A new study from UNC-Chapel Hill shows the level of contaminants found in residents’ drinking water can be ‘significantly predicted by race and income.’

Andrew George is the community engagement coordinator in the Center for Public Engagement at UNC’s Institute for the Environment, and the lead author of the study.

He says 476 private well users enrolled in this study. Well tests revealed contamination exceeding a federal or state standard or public health goal in more than 67% of the samples.

A ‘glaring disparity’

George says the study’s inclusion of race helps point to important variance in healthy water access for marginalized communities.

‘Most studies before ours have never really looked at race. And that’s largely because they weren’t able to recruit the right kind of sample,’ George said. ‘So, we were the first ones that really brought a good representative sample together with our partners. And because of that, now, we can actually look at these patterns. And that’s where we’re starting to see this first kind of glaring disparity with testing rates and treatment.’

Toxic metals in drinking water have no taste or smell, and they cannot be seen. Therefore, only the households that are actively testing the drinking water from private wells are able to identify any potential problems. Individuals who use contaminated water sometimes develop health problems associated with cancer, cardiovascular disease, neurological disorders and other illnesses.

The study focused on four regions in North Carolina that were impacted by hurricanes in 2018. It assessed contamination levels of metals in private wells and the differences in water quality and well stewardship among demographic groups.

‘White, high-income households had over 10 times greater odds of testing their private wells, and over 4 times greater odds of treating their drinking water than BIPOC, low-income households,’ the study found.

The study concludes that well-reliant populations in socially and economically marginalized communities will ‘likely remain unaware of potential exposure to contaminated drinking water absent focused efforts to encourage well testing and treatment.'”