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Walter and Lalita Janke Innovations in Sustainability Science Research Fund

Examining the Relationships between Socioeconomic Deprivation and Drinking Water Quality: Identifying Inequities in Palm Beach County, FL

  • PI: Meagan Weisner
  • Co-Advisors: Dr. Michael Harris and Dr. Tara Root 
  • Department: Geosciences 
  • Award: $5,000 

Meagan WeisnerProject Summary: Sustainable, high quality drinking water is vital to supporting individual health and quality of life. Sophisticated water treatment facilities across the United States produce drinking water for millions of residents but aging infrastructure and outdated household plumbing materials may alter the quality before it reaches the consumer’s tap. Drinking water Since tap water testing is commonly done only when a problem is suspected, significant knowledge gaps exist about the magnitude and extent of tap water contamination and how socioeconomic factors might contribute to this risk. The goal of this research is to address these knowledge gaps and identify the relationships between inorganic contaminants in tap water and social and economic inequities. Specifically, this research addresses the following questions: (1) How do concentrations of metals in tap water vary spatially? (2) What, if any, socioeconomic factors contribute to the spatial variability in tap water quality? (3) How can the results about the relationship between water contamination and socioeconomic deprivation be used to inform public policy to provide greater protection for public health? Palm Beach County, FL will serve as the study area for this project. In order to accomplish the project goals, we will use a mixed methods approach that will include water testing for approximately 200 households for 12 different inorganic contaminants. Socioeconomic disparities will be identified by creating a Neighborhood Social Deprivation Index (NSDI) using indicators from the U.S. Census Bureau. Additionally, semi-structured interviews and surveys with residents and municipalities will provide deeper insight about water quality disparities. This proposed research will use spatial analysis results to inform municipalities and water utilities about the geography of tap water contamination. Results will provide policy makers with fundamentally important information about the health and well-being of the population by indicating who is likely to be affected by elevated levels of inorganic contaminants.

 Last Modified 10/16/17