JAN 18, 2022 3:00 PM PST

Contaminated Drinking Water More Likely to Affect Communities of Color in California, Study Says

WRITTEN BY: Hannah Daniel

370,000 people are drinking contaminated water in a state where access to safe, clean water is a legal human right.

A new study from the University of California, Berkeley published the findings last week in the American Journal of Public Health. Led by Rachel Morello-Frosch, professor of public health and environmental science, policy, and management at UC Berkeley, and Laura Cushing, an assistant professor of environmental health sciences at the University of California, Los Angeles, the study marks the first quantitative analysis of water quality and demographics across the state.

Access to safe, clean, and affordable drinking water is a human right in California, which legislates that community water systems must undergo regular testing to mitigate potential harmful chemicals in the water. Previous research suggests that these water systems often do not meet regulatory standards, and additionally, 3.4% of Californians rely on water from domestic wells, which are unregulated.

The team’s data collection focused on three known contaminants, chosen for their toxicity and prevalence. Arsenic is commonly found in groundwater and is concentrated when a water table dries; nitrate is usually found in agricultural runoff, a significant issue in California; and hexavalent chromium is a byproduct of industrial manufacturing activity. Researchers gathered water samples from across the state, including both domestic wells and community water systems.

Their findings estimate that over 370,000 Californians rely on contaminated drinking water or drinking water with the level of one or more of the three contaminants above the regulated standard. Of those 370,000, over 40% received their water from a domestic well

Cushing and Morello-Frosch didn’t just measure water quality, but they sought to understand how demographics play into clean water disparities across the state. Using census data, they found that people of color were more likely to be supplied with contaminated water.

“This pattern has already been documented in community water systems, particularly in the San Joaquin Valley, but our work is one of the first to examine the question statewide and among domestic well communities not served by public water system,” Cushing said.

The researchers want to use their findings to influence future public health policy in the state. They have already created the Drinking Water Tool, a website for community members and policymakers to understand the scope of the issue. People can use the website to identify where their water is sourced and if it may be contaminated. They hope that this data will pressure the state to increase water testing and inform potential solutions. For instance, legislators can investigate whether consolidating water from domestic well areas and community water sources will allow more people access to clean water.

Cushing stressed the urgency of this problem. “In this era of climate change, our groundwater is becoming an increasingly precious resource, and we're facing historic levels of drought and well failures. Even if a well doesn't fail, drawdown of the water table can impact water quality by concentrating contaminants, making these problems even worse,” she said.

Sources: Eureka Alert (AAAS), American Journal of Public Health

About the Author
BS Biology
Hannah Daniel (she/they) is a recent graduate of Carnegie Mellon University, where she received a Bachelor of Science in Biology with an additional minor in Creative Writing. Currently, she works as a reporter for Informa Intelligence's Health, Beauty, and Wellness publication, a business newsletter detailing the latest innovations and regulations in the OTC drug and supplement worlds.
You May Also Like
APR 28, 2022
Health & Medicine
Antidepressants Not Associated Improved Quality of Life
APR 28, 2022
Antidepressants Not Associated Improved Quality of Life
According to a recently published study in PLoS, antidepressants do not improve health-related quality of life (HRQoL) o ...
MAY 07, 2022
Neuroscience
Higher Antioxidant Levels Linked to Lower Dementia Risk
MAY 07, 2022
Higher Antioxidant Levels Linked to Lower Dementia Risk
Higher levels of antioxidants in the blood are linked to a lower risk of dementia. The corresponding study was published ...
MAY 07, 2022
Drug Discovery & Development
Ibuprofen and Blood Pressure Medication Linked to Kidney Damage
MAY 07, 2022
Ibuprofen and Blood Pressure Medication Linked to Kidney Damage
A combination of ibuprofen and certain blood pressure medications could lead to acute kidney injury. The corresponding s ...
MAY 13, 2022
Health & Medicine
Increased Mental Health Risks Linked to High Potency Cannabis Concentrates
MAY 13, 2022
Increased Mental Health Risks Linked to High Potency Cannabis Concentrates
As more states legalize cannabis for medical and recreational purposes, the association between excessive cannabis consu ...
MAY 16, 2022
Cancer
"Pawsitive" Effects of Pet Therapy
MAY 16, 2022
"Pawsitive" Effects of Pet Therapy
  Over the past couple of months, we have explored art and music therapies, two types of alternative therapeutic ap ...
MAY 19, 2022
Cardiology
Death from Heart Attacks More Common in US than Other High-Income Countries
MAY 19, 2022
Death from Heart Attacks More Common in US than Other High-Income Countries
The US has a high rate of heart attack mortality compared to other high-income countries.
Loading Comments...