Online Program

Radon contaminated drinking water from private wells: An environmental health assessment Examining a rural Colorado mountain community's exposure

Wednesday, November 6, 2013 : 8:30 a.m. - 8:50 a.m.

Michael Anthony (Tony) Cappello, PhD, MPH, REHS, Northeast Colorado Health Department, Sterling, CO
Aimee Ferraro, PhD, MPH, College of Health Sciences, Walden University, Minneapolis, MN
Aaron B. Mendelsohn, PhD, MPH, Scientific Affairs, Quintiles, Rockville, MD
Angela Witt Prehn, PhD, School of Health Sciences, College of Health Sciences, Walden University, Minneapolis, MN
Background: Groundwater is the primary source of drinking water for approximately 15 million homes, and roughly 40 million people in the United States. Private wells that gather groundwater are largely exempt from federal drinking water regulations and are often not subject to the same mandatory testing of public drinking water systems. Households that rely on private wells for their primary source of water are thus at an increased risk of exposure to unmeasured contaminates such as naturally occurring radon, which can increase an individual's risk of cancer development.

Methodology: In this study, 27 private drinking water wells located in a rural Colorado mountain community were sampled for radon contamination and compared against: (a) the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) proposed maximum contaminant level for drinking water (MCL), (b) the EPA proposed alternate maximum contaminate level (AMCL), and (c), the average radon level measured in the local municipal drinking water system.

Results: The data from this study found that all wells within the study population (100%) had radon levels in excess of the EPA proposed MCL, 37% were in excess of the EPA proposed AMCL, and 100% of wells were greater than that found in the local municipal drinking water system. Radon contamination in one well was found to be 715 times greater than the EPA proposed MCL, 54 times greater than the EPA proposed AMLC, and 36,983 times greater than that found in the local municipal drinking water system.

Conclusion: This study identified a population with dangerously high radon contaminated drinking water and highlights the importance of monitoring private wells for contamination. This study offers value in beginning to understand the implications and presence of radon contaminated drinking water in private wells and the importance of introducing mitigation safeguards to protect against the future added effects of excess radiation exposure.

Learning Areas:

Environmental health sciences
Public health or related laws, regulations, standards, or guidelines
Public health or related research

Learning Objectives:
Describe the health risks associated with radon contaminated drinking water from private wells as observed in the study population. Define the differences between, and the gaps associated with, the EPA proposed radon Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) and the EPA proposed radon Alternative Maximum Contaminant level (AMCL). Assess the difference between EPA proposed radon drinking water standards/levels found in the local city municipal drinking water system to levels found in private wells within the study population. Describe how those who use private wells may be at an increased risk for excess radiation exposure/cancer development from radon contaminated drinking water and discuss options for public health intervention, contamination mitigation, and public education.

Keyword(s): Environmental Health, Water Quality

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: This project was my doctoral dissertation for a Ph.D. in Public Health and I was the principal researcher. I have over 8 years of professional experience in environmental public health including a Registered Environmental Health Specialist credential and published research in the Journal of Environmental Health. My scientific interests include water quality, radon exposure, and environmental epidemiology. My academic background includes a B.S. in Environmental Health, an M.P.H, and a Ph.D. in Public Health.
Any relevant financial relationships? No

I agree to comply with the American Public Health Association Conflict of Interest and Commercial Support Guidelines, and to disclose to the participants any off-label or experimental uses of a commercial product or service discussed in my presentation.