Presentation Time: 10:15-10:35
Home University: UNC-Chapel Hill
Research Mentor: Rebecca Fry, Department of Environmental Sciences and Engineering
Research Title: Developing an Environmental Justice Index for Toxic Metal Well Water Contamination in North Carolina
Background. Approximately 2.4 million well water users in North Carolina (NC) are vulnerable to metal contamination because they are not protected by the Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Safe Drinking Water Act (USGS, 2018). The established relationship between social and economic indicators and water quality prompts private well contamination in NC to be examined through an environmental justice lens.
Methods. This paper identifies locations in NC where minority and low-income populations experience elevated exposure to well water contaminated with toxic metals. Geocoded well water test results, from 1998-2019 (n=117,960), and American Community Survey estimates for 2019 were used to derive Environmental Justice (EJ) Indexes at a census tract level for arsenic, cadmium, lead, and manganese. This approach mirrors the EPA’s national EJ Index model which combines environmental and demographic data for a single location.
Results. A wide range of EJ Indexes (n=8,152) were determined. Census tracts in Union, Pitt, Guilford, and Sampson counties had the highest EJ Index for arsenic, cadmium, lead, and manganese, respectively.
Conclusions. The EJ Indexes constructed in this study can be used by public health professionals to prioritize remediation efforts in EJ communities that demonstrate excess risk in well water contamination.