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Member Research and Reports

Member Research and Reports

UNC: Communities Without Access to Municipal Water At Greater Risk of Having Lead in Their Drinking Water

A new study from the UNC Gillings School of Global Public Health found that houses in urban fringe areas of North Carolina without city water service are at high risk of having lead in their water. In the study’s test area, 28 percent of households had lead in their kitchen tap water at concentrations above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s health-based limit of 15 parts per billion (ppb), similar to the risk in Flint, Mich., during the 2015 water crisis.

Mr. Frank Stillo, doctoral student in environmental sciences and engineering, is author of the paper, “Racial Disparities in Access to Municipal Water Supplies in the American South: Impacts on Children’s Health,” published this month in the International Public Health Journal. Dr. Jacqueline MacDonald Gibson, environmental sciences and engineering professor at the Gillings School, was senior author.

The work is part of a special issue of papers presented at the Break the Cycle of Children’s Environmental Health Disparities Conference, an invitation-only event. Graduate students apply, and those selected undergo a year-long mentoring process of preparing a paper for presentation and publication in a special issue.

Mr. Stillo’s and Dr. Gibson’s team tested kitchen tap water in 29 houses, analyzing two samples from each home for lead. In eight of the homes, at least one of the two samples had lead concentrations above the health-based standard. In seven of those eight, both samples had lead concentrations above this threshold.

Using these results, Dr. Gibson’s team will study children to see if they are experiencing negative effects. Possible outcomes include elevated blood lead, which can lead to neurocognitive impacts such as lowered IQ, behavioral changes or poor performance in school.

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