Project Regions North America
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Arsenic in Rural & Carceral Drinking Water Systems

Source: Adapted from

In the United States, millions of people lack reliable access to safe drinking water, a problem that is particularly acute in low-income rural areas. California legally recognized the human right to water in 2012, but this right remains unevenly realized. To better understand the status of the human right to water in rural communities, we analyzed 20 years of publicly available drinking water quality monitoring and violation data from 2001-2021, with a focus on arsenic contamination (a carcinogenic heavy metal) from a state prison as well as public water systems in three neighboring rural communities in southern California. We found that all four of these drinking water systems repeatedly exceeded the legal limit for arsenic during the study period, with mean served arsenic levels ranging from 3.4 (SD=6.7) to 9.3 (SD:=2.9) μg/L across the systems (based on 2,426 samples from four systems). In addition to arsenic-specific findings and comparisons across these four sites, our analyses demonstrate how publicly reported annually averaged water quality data (used to monitor system violations and to track progress toward the human right to water) provide only a partial guide to whether the right to safe water is being realized. We expect to publish our findings in 2022.

Wastewater Surveillance & Epidemiology at Multiple Scales

Led by VT colleagues in Environmental Engineering (Dr.s Pruden & Vikesland – pictured), the purpose of this study was to develop a coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) surveillance program based on the analysis of wastewater samples collected over the 2020/21 academic year from different buildings and sites on the Virginia Tech (VT) university campus. This type of wastewater-based epidemiology approach has been used by other researchers, as well as wastewater utilities, to monitor SARS-CoV-2 (i.e., the virus that causes COVID-19) load trends and to attempt to estimate future trends. Our primary research objective was to assess whether wastewater samples at the dormitory level could help predict future cases of SARS-CoV-2 infection, via testing the water for viral loads. The overarching goal of our research for this project was to help support the VT administration with their efforts to monitor and control SARS-CoV-2 infections on the VT campus. We pre-specified our statistical analysis plan (uploaded to OSF) and expect to publish our findings by/before early 2022.

Led by colleagues at the Virginia Department of Health (Dr. Degen), UVA (Dr. Taniuchi), Radford University (Dr. Tolliver), and others, we are also assisting the Roanoke Health District with analysis of wastewater sample data collected at sub-sewershed scales in and around the Roanoke City (VA) region.

Drinking Water Contamination & Health in Rural Appalachia

We are conducting a systematic review and meta analysis in order to better understand the nature and extent of drinking water contamination in the Appalachian region of the United States as well as associated health outcomes. Specifically, the objective of this work is to comprehensively evaluate published research (based on primary data collection) on drinking water contamination in the Appalachian region (with reference to national drinking water safety standards) and to evaluate the degree to which such exposures are associated with measured and self-reported negative health outcomes. Studies are considered eligible for inclusion in our review if they were situated in any part of the Appalachian region, data collection was completed on or after January 1, 2000, and drinking water was measured/assessed for indicators of microbiological and/or chemical contamination, and/or if health outcomes directly related to drinking water were measured/assessed. We pre-registered our study protocol and are now working on the data extraction and analysis stages of the project with the goal of submitting a manuscript for publication in 2022.