Author ORCID Identifier
Date of Award
Master of Public Health (MPH)
Dr. Christine E. Stauber
Dr. Suhasini Ramisetty-Mikler
Dr. Uttam Kamar Saha
Introduction: Safe, reliable, and clean drinking water sources are a basic necessity; however, chemical contamination of private wells has plagued Georgia. More than 1.7 million individuals in Georgia rely on private wells for drinking water; nonetheless, wells are not under mandated regulations as municipal water supplies. Well water can contain chemical contaminants such as arsenic, uranium, lead, nitrate-nitrogen, and radon that can impact health when above the federal Maximum Contaminant Limit (MCL). In Georgia, previous studies suggested that the variation of soil and rock in a physiographic province (region) plays an essential role in the quality of private well water. There is a need to understand the distribution of these chemical contaminants above the federal MCL and how the different geologies in each physiographic province might influence such concentrations. Therefore, this study aimed to examine the distribution of arsenic, uranium, radon, nitrate-nitrogen, and lead concentrations above the federal MCL in private well water and examine an association of contamination with physiographic provinces in Georgia specifically by utilizing private well water data collected by the University of Georgia’s Agricultural and Environmental Services Laboratories (AESL).
Methods: The University of Georgia’s AESL tested samples of private well water upon the request of residents in Georgia between January 2010 and March 2022. Samples were tested for arsenic, uranium, radon, nitrate-nitrogen, and lead. The United States Geological Survey collected data from Fenneman’s "Physical Divisions of the United States," which is based on eight major divisions, 25 provinces, and 86 sections representing distinctive areas having common topography, rock types and structure, and geologic and geomorphic history originally published on January 1, 1946. Bivariate associations between the physiographic provinces and the proportion of arsenic, uranium, radon, nitrate-nitrogen, and lead concentrations detected in private well water samples above the federal MCL were tested using cross-tabulation with the chi-square option (χ2). Alpha was set at p < .05 for results to be considered statistically significant.
Results: In Georgia, over 26,000 well water samples were collected and tested for a least one chemical contaminant from 2010 through 2022. The majority of well water samples were tested for nitrate-nitrogen contamination (n=14,384). Samples tested for arsenic and nitrate-nitrogen with concentrations exceeding the MCL appeared more often in the Coastal Plain province. Samples tested for lead with concentrations exceeding the MCL appeared more often in the Blue Ridge province. Samples tested for radon and uranium with concentrations exceeding the MCL appeared more often in the Piedmont province. Cross-tabulation with the chi-squared (χ2) option indicated associations between physiographic provinces and the proportion of private well water samples containing arsenic concentrations exceeding the federal MCL in the Coastal Plain, χ2(3) = 95.53, p = <.001, and the proportion of private well water samples containing nitrate-nitrogen concentrations exceeding the federal MCL in the Coastal Plain, χ2(4) = 11.56, p = .021.
Conclusion: Elevated concentrations of arsenic, uranium, radon, nitrate-nitrogen, and lead can cause adverse conditions such as chronic toxicity, liver, kidney, and intestinal damage, anemia, and cancer that can impact health. Understanding the geological factors behind poor well water quality will promote public health initiatives that increase public awareness and provide opportunities to maintain healthy well water quality in Georgia.
Willis, Angelique, "A Descriptive Study of Well Water Contaminants in Georgia from 2010-2022." Thesis, Georgia State University, 2023.
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