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Private Well Initiative (PWI)

About 15 percent of the U.S. population relies on private wells for their drinking water. Ensuring the safety of the water from these wells is primarily the responsibility of the well owner. Many studies have found unsafe levels of chemicals in private wells including radon, arsenic, uranium, manganese, fluoride, nitrates/nitrites, and bacteria. Unlike public water supplies, the U.S. does not have a public health program focused on ensuring the safety of private well systems through surveillance, intervention, education, and evaluation. The Private Well Initiative (PWI) will address many different aspects of the public health impacts from drinking water from private wells and other sources not protected by the US EPA Safe Drinking Water Act (unregulated drinking water sources or UDWS). One very important activity is to create a resource that identifies and promotes access to data characterizing private wells and describing water quantity and quality in private wells and other UDWS. The resource will first be developed for use by public and environmental health practitioners. Later, the information will be made available for the public to use.

A second major activity of the PWI is to identify, evaluate, and recommend interventions to protect people from drinking contaminated water from these UDWS. The interventions may by whole-house water filters, filters installed at the tap, or environmental fixes such as well casing repair and modifying nearby land uses.

HSB implemented the PWI in 2010, first partnering with states and federal agencies along with non-governmental organizations to create a National Workgroup. This National Workgroup collaborated to identify the vision and goals of PWI and will continue to guide important components of the PWI. Other activities of PWI and partners include:

  • Funding state departments of health through a cooperative agreement to develop internal partnerships to identify datasets containing information on private well characteristics and well water quality
  • Creating and pilot-testing a data collection instrument that states used to collect a small amount of metadata describing the datasets they found
  • Creating a summary report of the first year of data set identification efforts
  • Creating a literature review about unregulated drinking water and public health
  • Identifing the needs for and uses of a resource to identify and promote access to data on UDWS
  • Identifying roles and activities for various participants in the National Workgroup
  • Partnering with Environmental Public Health Tracking to ensure that our efforts are mutually beneficial
  • Identifying data set owners and generating draft data sharing agreements

Vision

The 45 million Americans relying on private well systems will drink clean, safe water.

Goals

  1. Data, information, and knowledge about the current status and conditions of private wells and other UDWS nationwide is available for use
  2. Information and knowledge about interventions and approaches to address private well and UDWS concerns is organized and promoted

Publications

Backer LC, Tosta N. Unregulated drinking water initiative for environmental surveillance and public health [PDF - 141 KB] . Journal of Environmental Health. 2011, 73,7:31-32.

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