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Member Research & Reports

Member Research & Reports

Rutgers Staff and Alumni Co-Author Study on Arsenic Testing and Mitigation Behavior in New Jersey

A recent study co-authored by Rutgers School of Public Health staff and alumni about the remediation behaviors of private well owners in New Jersey has provided a clearer vision of the severity with which home owners view naturally occurring arsenic in groundwater, as well as the potential positive impact more strenuous policy and regulations concerning testing could have on the health of residents. The study, led by Dr. Sara Flanagan of Columbia University, built upon an earlier investigation by Rutgers School of Public Health alum and Center for Public Health Workforce program evaluator, Dr. Megan Rockafellow-Baldoni, which found that reduction in the risk of cancer due to arsenic exposure in Hopewell Township (Mercer County), New Jersey with use of arsenic treatment systems.

Though chronic exposure to arsenic through drinking water is associated with various adverse health effects, including cancers, cardiovascular disease, lung disease, and even diminished IQ of children, the publication of “Health protective behavior following required arsenic testing under New Jersey Private Well Testing Act” remains the first and only examination of mitigation behavior among homeowners required to test during real estate transactions. 

New Jersey’s Private Well Testing Act (PWTA), was enacted in 2002 and amended in 2006 with more stringent measurement requirements including arsenic testing during each real estate transaction. The PWTA mandates testing in each of the 12 counties in the northern half of New Jersey, where arsenic levels can rise as high as 250 µg/L. Currently, New Jersey and Oregon as the only two states in the country to require such testing. The PWTA is “right-to-know law,” with regulations that are merely a screening tool and do not require home owners to take any further remedial actions, even if the maximum levels of acceptable contamination are exceeded.

The authors mailed 1500 surveys to homeowners with at-risk water wells on their property, with 486 eligible responses. The survey data showed that a mere 30 percent of private well owners who conducted their tests prior to 2006 and found arsenic concentrations between 5 and 10 µg/L identified this as a problem. That percentage jumped to 60 percent for property owners who ran their test following New Jersey’s amended standards for maximum contaminant levels. They also found that individual protective behavior essential to reducing arsenic exposure had barriers such as, cost, perception of urgency, and the individuals level of education. 

Dr. Flanagan of Columbia University and her colleagues, Rutgers School of Public Health Alum, Dr. Steve Spayd, Dr. Rockafellow-Baldoni, and the New Jersey Department of Health found that the most overwhelming barrier to remediation is cost, as the median cost to install a treatment system with an average lifespan of seven years was estimated to be $3000. In addition to initial fee, respondents reported having to replace their treatment tanks’ adsorptive media adding additional maintenance costs. Respondents also contend with the hundreds of dollars spent annually on various water treatment needs and tests. “While the cost is high, some financing is available to New Jersey residents in the form of a no-interest loan, up to $10,000 ,” comments Dr. Rockafellow-Baldoni.

The study concludes that as long as there is no legislation requiring homeowners to remediate their wells, a significant portion of those living with levels of contamination above the standard will not take action due to a combination of factors, including the ongoing costs of treatment.

“Health protective behavior following arsenic testing under the New Jersey Private Well Testing Act” was published in the International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health.