Community-Based Research Strategies to Analyze Risk of Lead Contamination in Public Water Supplies in the Mississippi Delta

Author(s): Fratesi, M.; Woo, L.; Green, J.; Otts, S.; Janasie, C.; Rhymes, J.; Thornton, C.; Avula, B.; Willett, K.

This project includes community-based participatory research and an assessment of residential drinking water supplies and water supply infrastructure in the Mississippi Delta. Additionally, we aim to assess multiple social science approaches to engage stakeholders and influence policy on the current state of lead contamination in drinking water in Mississippi. The 2016-2017 cohort of students enrolled in the Tri-County Workforce Alliance and their parents served as our initial community partners. The participants came from four counties (primarily Coahoma) and 14 municipalities and all reported being on public water systems (e.g. not wells). Participants collected their home drinking water (first catch of the day from kitchen sink, cold water) and samples were analyzed for pH and lead concentrations. Sixty-eight of the 87 distributed bottles (78%) were returned. The pH of the drinking water samples ranged from 7.04-8.23. Notably, lower pH is associated with higher potential to leach lead. Of the samples tested so far from the Delta cohort, only 20 of the samples had lead concentrations above the detection limit, with the highest concentration being 3.45 ppb. All concentrations were well below the EPA 15 ppb action level. Letters were sent to each participant notifying them of their water results. The study is ongoing: demographic data is being analyzed for risk factors associated with lead detects; water sampling data from public water systems is being collected and analyzed; and additional community cohorts are being engaged. For example in the cohort, 85% of the residences were houses (vs. apartments or mobile homes) and 47% of the respondents who estimated the age of their home indicated that it was built before 1985. Ultimately, this project has the potential to help safeguard public health because survey and sampling results will help assess the risks of lead contamination in the Mississippi Delta, assist with the identification of lead service lines and lead plumbing within the distribution systems, and design and guide scalable research and outreach efforts to minimize lead exposure through use of filters and/or behavioral changes.

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