Description and Details

Con­duct­ed in 2019, this study aimed to deter­mine through sta­tis­ti­cal analy­sis whether high nitrate lev­els in drink­ing water cor­re­spond­ed with any already dis­ad­van­taged socioe­co­nom­ic group. This study was con­duct­ed on drink­ing water sys­tems across the US, although there were sev­er­al lim­i­ta­tions mean­ing that the study was not com­plete­ly comprehensive.

High­er lev­els of nitrate can be caused by sev­er­al fac­tors, how­ev­er, their promi­nent use in fer­til­iz­er means that rur­al farm­ing com­mu­ni­ties are much more like­ly to expe­ri­ence high­er nitrate lev­els than more urban communities.

The results of this study found that drink­ing water sys­tems serv­ing pop­u­la­tions with a high per­cent­age of His­pan­ic indi­vid­u­als are more like­ly to expe­ri­ence high­er lev­els of nitrate, but those with a high per­cent­age of black indi­vid­u­als are less like­ly to expe­ri­ence high­er lev­els of nitrate. 

While small drink­ing water sys­tems are more like­ly to expe­ri­ence high­er lev­els of nitrate in gen­er­al, and His­pan­ic pop­u­la­tions tend to be larg­er in rur­al areas, this fact was account­ed for in this study; and this cor­re­la­tion was not enough to explain the discrepancies.

Of note to the researcher who is writ­ing this sum­ma­ry is the fact the study men­tions that there is no nation­al data­base of water con­t­a­m­i­nant con­cen­tra­tion data, mean­ing that the researchers who con­duct­ed this study had to indi­vid­u­al­ly com­pile data from sev­er­al dif­fer­ent sources, includ­ing hav­ing to file offi­cial requests through the free­dom of infor­ma­tion act. In the age of infor­ma­tion, the fact that such a data­base does not exist is obfus­cat­ing, as such a database’s exis­tence would allow for more stud­ies like this one to be conducted.

This study notes that it is the first of its kind — no oth­er nation­wide stud­ies had been done on dis­par­i­ties in drink­ing water con­t­a­m­i­na­tion across socioe­co­nom­ic lev­els before it. Note that this study was pub­lished in 2019.

CEE sub­jects: Envi­ron­men­tal Engi­neer­ing, Water Qual­i­ty and Health, Envi­ron­men­tal Pol­i­cy and Sus­tain­able Infrastructure

Discussion Questions

  • How do we account for the dis­crep­an­cies in drink­ing water con­t­a­m­i­nants when con­struct­ing dis­tri­b­u­tion sys­tems? Can you think of any expla­na­tion on this lev­el that would result in this study’s findings?
  • Why aren’t more stud­ies done like this one to ana­lyze the socioe­co­nom­ic dis­par­i­ties in drink­ing water con­t­a­m­i­na­tion? What chal­lenges might a researcher seek­ing to con­duct such a study face?