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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

UNC Study Makes Recommendations to Improve Safety of Drinking-Water Wells in North Carolina

A new paper, published July 8 in Environmental Health Perspectives, offers recommendations that could improve the health of North Carolinians who rely on private drinking-water wells.

The paper, whose lead author is Dr. Jacqueline MacDonald Gibson, associate professor of environmental sciences and engineering at the University of North Carolina Gillings School of Global Public Health, summarizes recommendations made by the Research Triangle (NC) Environmental Health Collaborative at a two-day summit in October 2015.

At that time, invited participants including public health practitioners, academic scientists, community-based organizations, policy makers and others proposed 10 high-priority recommendations to address critical challenges to private well-water quality in North Carolina.

About 44.5 million U.S. residents draw drinking water from private wells, which leaves them at higher risk of being exposed to waterborne contaminants than are residents served by regulated municipal water systems. North Carolina is second only to Pennsylvania in the number of people who drink from private wells – about 3.3 million.

Dr. MacDonald Gibson’s previous research found that 99 percent of emergency-department hospital visits for acute gastrointestinal illness associated with exposure to waterborne microbial contaminants was attributable to contaminated private wells. North Carolina therefore serves as a fitting microcosm of the national problem.

Participants in the “Safe Water from Every Tap” summit focused on four critical challenges:

Summit participants made these 10 recommendations:

“Many Americans take for granted that their kitchen faucets will deliver clean water to drink, but people getting their water from unregulated private wells do not have that luxury,” Dr. MacDonald Gibson said. “We hope that state and federal regulations will adopt some of our recommendations to help improve the safety of drinking water from unregulated wells.”

The paper’s co-author is Dr. Kelsey J. Pieper, postdoctoral fellow in civil and environmental engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute.

[Photo: UNC’s Dr. Jackie MacDonald Gibson (left) examines a well pump in rural North Carolina.]

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