Online Program

Understanding chemical and non-chemical vulnerability of private well owners: Results from the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Kristen Malecki, PhD, MPH, Department of Population Health Sciences, University of Wisconsin-Madison, Madison, WI
Amy Schultz, MS, Department of Population Health Sciences, School of Medicine and Public Health, University of Wisconsin- Madison, Madison, WI
Lori Severtson, RN, PhD, Department of Population Health Sciences, University of Wisconsin- Madison, Madison, WI
James VanDerslice, PhD, Division of Public Health, Department of Family and Preventive Medicine, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, UT
Henry Anderson, MD, MPH, Bureau of Environmental and Occupational Health, Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Madison, WI
Background: Groundwater contamination of private wells is widespread. Despite this, regulators in Wisconsin and across the United States estimate only 10% of private well owners regularly test their wells. Consequently, they are particularly vulnerable to exposure and human health risks from groundwater contamination, but little empirical evidence exists to understand risks.


Methods: Using baseline and follow-up data from the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin, a population based household examination survey, we examined barriers to private well testing behaviors and patterns as markers of population vulnerability. We also examined variation in testing and treatment behaviors amongst individuals in high vs. low groundwater susceptibility areas in the state.


Results: From 2008-2013, SHOW identified 726 households using private wells. Approximately 45% of had at least 1 child less than 20 years living in the home. Prevalence of private well testing was low (about 10%). Barriers to testing include costs, perceived safety and limited understanding of where and how to get testing done. Approximately 40% of participants (37.8%) do not know their well depth. An estimated 57% of the participants indicate they do not use any type of water treatment. Among individuals who do treat, use of a water softener was most prominent and only about 3% report using a whole house reverse osmosis system.


Discussion: Results show important opportunities for increasing awareness and reducing vulnerability of private well owners. Regular testing of private well water is a known and effective method for detecting contaminants and identifying strategies for reducing exposures. Increased targeted outreach to vulnerable sub-populations could greatly aid efforts to prevent potential health risks from groundwater contamination among private well owners across the state and nation.

Learning Areas:

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

Learning Objectives:
Describe prevalence of chemical contamination in Upper Midwest private wells. Discuss barriers to private well testing and treatment. Identify opportunities for intervention and reducing private well owners vulnerability of exposure to contaminated groundwater.

Keyword(s): Water & Health, Vulnerable Populations

Presenting author's disclosure statement:

Qualified on the content I am responsible for because: I have worked for ten years as an applied epidemiology. I have a PhD in environmental health policy and epidemiology from Johns Hopkins. I currently serve as Co-Director of the Survey of the Health of Wisconsin project and Principal Investigator on this project.
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.