Community Engaged Cumulative Risk Assessment of Exposure to Inorganic Well Water Contaminants, Crow Reservation, Montana


Margaret J. Eggers, John T. Doyle, Myra J. Lefthand, Sara L. Young, Anita L. Moore-Nall, Larry Kindness, Roberta Other Medicine, Timothy E. Ford, Eric Dietrich, Albert E. Parker, Joseph H. Hoover, Anne K. Camper


International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health


An estimated 11 million people in the US have home wells with unsafe levels of hazardous metals and nitrate. The national scope of the health risk from consuming this water has not been assessed as home wells are largely unregulated and data on well water treatment and consumption are lacking. Here, we assessed health risks from consumption of contaminated well water on the Crow Reservation by conducting a community-engaged, cumulative risk assessment. Well water testing, surveys and interviews were used to collect data on contaminant concentrations, water treatment methods, well water consumption, and well and septic system protection and maintenance practices. Additive Hazard Index calculations show that the water in more than 39% of wells is unsafe due to uranium, manganese, nitrate, zinc and/or arsenic. Most families' financial resources are limited, and 95% of participants do not employ water treatment technologies. Despite widespread high total dissolved solids, poor taste and odor, 80% of families consume their well water. Lack of environmental health literacy about well water safety, pre-existing health conditions and limited environmental enforcement also contribute to vulnerability. Ensuring access to safe drinking water and providing accompanying education are urgent public health priorities for Crow and other rural US families with low environmental health literacy and limited financial resources.



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