Characterizing lead exposure in households that depend on private wells for drinking water


Authors: Alyson Alde, Frank Stillo, Abhishek Komandur, James Harrington, and Jacqueline MacDonald Gibson
Page Range: 285-296
Published in: International Public Health Journal, 15#3 (2023)
ISSN: 1947-4989

Table of Contents


Evidence accumulated over the past several decades indicates there is no safe level of exposure to lead. Although the Safe Drinking Water Act limits exposure to lead from municipal water supplies, no such protection exists for private wells. Research suggests United States (US) children relying on private wells have increased risk from lead exposure compared to those served by a regulated water system. However, no prior US studies have concurrently measured water and blood lead levels in homes using private wells. To assess these associations, we collected blood, tap water and household dust samples from 89 participants using private wells for drinking water. A multivariable regression was performed to examine the association between well water lead and blood lead, controlling for lead in dust and other confounders. Although water and blood lead levels were not directly associated, filtering water was associated with a 32% decrease in blood lead (p < 0.05). Additionally, using a filter was significantly associated with decreased risk for high lead in water (p = 0.01). We found significant racial disparities in access to water filters. Among African American or Native American participants, 38% had a water filter, compared to 83% of other participants (p < 0.001). This study highlights that drinking unfiltered private well water may increase the risk of exposure to lead and that racial disparities in access to and use of water filters in homes relying on private wells may therefore contribute to longstanding disparities in children’s blood lead. Keywords: Lead exposure, drinking water, private wells, blood lead levels, United States

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