Woman’s Worry Prompts CDC/ATSDR Outreach on Testing Private Wells

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In the “Voices from the Field” blog series, NCEH and ATSDR staff tell us about their work in communities, states, tribal territories, and even other countries. Read about how ATSDR Region 9 employees Ben Gerhardstein and Jamie Rayman discovered a critical need for accurate information in an Arizona community and created educational materials that everyone can use.

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What if you learned that your well water was contaminated with a dangerous chemical? Where would you go for valid scientific information about your family’s health risks? How could you find out what to do next?

At a 2013 public meeting in Arizona mining country, ATSDR region 9 staff members Ben Gerhardstein and Jamie Rayman met a mother who wept as she told about her family’s experience with contaminated well water. Her family and many others in rural Dewey-Humboldt, Arizona, use private groundwater wells for their drinking water. She had recently learned that her family had been drinking water from a well with arsenic levels above what the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency considers safe.

Arsenic is an element that occurs naturally in the soil and groundwater of many areas of the United States. This mother and some other residents of the community learned about arsenic in local groundwater when they participated in a University of Arizona Superfund Research Program Exposure Study. They also learned that since no federal agency regulates private wells, well owners are responsible for testing and treating their wells for arsenic and other potential contaminants.

Arizona landscape. Photo courtesy ATSDR Region 9.
Arizona landscape. Photo courtesy ATSDR Region 9.

Unfortunately, many private well owners don’t know about naturally occurring arsenic in groundwater or that they are responsible for the water quality in their wells. After the meeting, Ben and Jamie teamed up with CDC colleagues dedicated to understanding and addressing the public health issues associated with private wells. They looked for educational materials and communication channels they could use to build awareness among public health professionals and private well owners across the United States.

Together they developed “Did You Know?” and “Have You Heard?” features for CDC/ATSDR to distribute nationally. These features provide information about arsenic in groundwater and the importance of testing private wells. Ben and Jamie also worked with state and local organizations to bring additional information about local groundwater quality and private well testing to the Dewey-Humboldt community. Jamie Rayman spoke with community members about their well water at the town’s annual Agua Fria festival in October 2014. “The festival was a great opportunity to connect with families in the community who want to learn how to make sure their drinking water is safe,” Jamie said.

Ben Gerhardstein (left) and Jamie Rayman (right) have worked on toxic exposure in several Arizona mining communities. Here they pose next to equipment formerly used to move ore at an Arizona mine.
Ben Gerhardstein (left) and Jamie Rayman (right) have worked on toxic exposure in several Arizona mining communities. Here they pose next to equipment formerly used to move ore at an Arizona mine.

“We hope these efforts and the information we shared help people avoid the kind of worry and frustration the woman in Arizona experienced,” added Ben.

Take a moment and read the “Did You Know?” and “Have You Heard?” features. If you know someone who owns a private well, consider sharing them. Interested in learning more about Ben and Jamie’s public health work? Read about how they helped prevent exposures to metals in Arizona mining country.

The Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR), based in Atlanta, Georgia, is a federal public health agency of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. ATSDR serves the public by using the best science, taking responsive public health actions, and providing trusted health information to prevent harmful exposures and diseases related to toxic substances.


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Page last reviewed: July 9, 2015
Page last updated: July 9, 2015