Columbia SRP scientists and their government partners in New Jersey and Maine published three articles in the August 15, 2016 issue of Science of the Total Environment, which have been selected by the editor for a Virtual Special Issue on Drinking Water Contaminants. The first of the three papers “Arsenic in private well water part 1 of 3: Impact of the New Jersey Private Well Testing Act on household testing and mitigation behavior” is authored by CU SRP scientists Sara Flanagan (CEC/RTC), Yan Zheng (CEC/RTC), Steven Chillrud (RTC/Project 5), and Stuart Braman (RTC/CEC), in collaboration with Steven Spayd and Nicholas Procopio of the New Jersey Department of Environmental Protection (NJDEP). This paper reports their investigation of the influence of a policy intervention, the New Jersey Private Well Testing Act (PWTA), on private well testing and water treatment behavior for arsenic. Since 2002, New Jersey’s PWTA has required testing of untreated groundwater for a variety of parameters prior to home sales and rentals, including arsenic testing in 12 counties in northern and central New Jersey. New Jersey is one of only two states that require testing of private wells for arsenic at the time of real estate transactions. The article presents the findings from a mailed survey of private well households in 17 towns in northern New Jersey, where about 25% of wells have faced the PWTA’s requirement for arsenic testing. Survey respondents answered questions on their water testing and treatment practices, preferences, and opinions. The authors conclude that New Jersey’s PWTA has led to significantly higher arsenic testing rates in at-risk areas and the identification of many more contaminated wells. Furthermore, the requirement to test among new homeowners addresses the socioeconomic gaps in testing that otherwise arise and has the unintended benefit of reaching higher proportions of families with children. The authors recommend more public resources be made available to support private well testing among socially and biologically vulnerable groups as well as more support for households after testing to promote arsenic exposure reduction through consistent water avoidance or treatment, regular maintenance, and monitoring.
In the second article “Arsenic in private well water part 2 of 3: Who benefits the most from traditional testing promotion?” authors Flanagan, Spayd, Procopio, Chillrud, James Ross (RTC/Core C), Braman, and Zheng report that, based on their survey of private well households in New Jersey, residents of towns with a history of arsenic testing promotion have tested their wells at higher rates than residents of areas where there has been no arsenic testing promotion. They conclude, however, that arsenic testing promotion at the community level may contribute to socioeconomic status (SES) disparities in arsenic testing since those with higher incomes and more education are more likely to take advantage of testing programs. The authors recommend that arsenic testing promotion and community engagement be better targeted to more socially vulnerable populations and suggest that policy changes at state and local levels may be needed to overcome the SES disparities observed when testing is not required.
In the third article of the series, “Arsenic in private well water part 3 of 3: Socioeconomic vulnerability to exposure in Maine and New Jersey,” Columbia SRP scientists Flanagan, Chillrud, Braman, and Zheng in collaboration with Spayd (NJDEP), Procopio (NJDEP), Robert Marvinney (Maine Geological Survey), and Andrew Smith (Maine Department of Health and Human Services, Center for Disease Control and Prevention) analyze data obtained from private well household surveys carried out in central Maine and northern New Jersey to investigate the association between SES and arsenic exposure risk, considering residential location, testing and treatment behavior, and psychological factors influencing behavior. The investigators find that while the environmental distribution of arsenic exposure risk is socioeconomically random, SES disparities in exposure likely arise from differing rates of protective behaviors such as testing well water for arsenic, water treatment, and avoiding contaminated water. They recommend that social vulnerability factors be incorporated into arsenic risk modeling and identifying priority areas for intervention.
Flanagan SV, Spayd SE, Procopio NA, Chillrud SN, Braman S, Zheng Y. Arsenic in private well water part 1 of 3: Impact of the New Jersey Private Well Testing Act on household testing and mitigation behavior. Science of the Total Environment. 2016 August 15; 562:999–1009. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.03.196
Flanagan SV, Spayd SE, Procopio NA, Chillrud SN, Ross J, Braman S, Zheng Y. Arsenic in private well water part 2 of 3: Who benefits the most from traditional testing promotion? Science of the Total Environment. 2016 August 15; 562:1010–1018. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.03.199
Flanagan SV, Spayd SE, Procopio NA, Marvinney RG, Smith AE, Chillrud SN, Braman S, Zheng Y. Arsenic in private well water part 3 of 3: Socioeconomic vulnerability to exposure in Maine and New Jersey. Science of the Total Environment. 2016 August 15; 562:1019–1030. http://dx.doi.org/10.1016/j.scitotenv.2016.03.217