Characterizing the health risks associated with domestic well water use in rural Western Kentucky

This cross-sectional study, funded through the 2008 Feasibility Projects Program of the Southeast Center for Agricultural Health and Injury Prevention, aimed to characterize rural groundwater quality as defined by the Kentucky Geological Survey. The project characterized the health status of a cohort of Kentuckians who rely on groundwater for their drinking water supplies via a survey designed to elucidate known health effects, and then combined the water quality data and the health effects data set and analyze for patterns related to levels of nitrate-N, herbicides, and bacteria.

Approximately 600 households with available well data were asked to participate in a survey, by mail, telephone, or interview, on certain adverse health effects in their households. Analysis of the groundwater data involved statistical regression methods for modeling the relationship between nitrate-N and herbicide concentrations and bacteria levels in well water to a set of adverse health outcomes. Adverse health outcomes related to nitrate-N that were measured include low birth weight, congenital malformation, neural tube defects, spontaneous abortions, stillbirths, premature birth or intrauterine growth retardation; Non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma and bladder, ovarian, stomach, breast, and liver cancers. Gastroenteritis was measured as an adverse health outcome related to bacteria (E.coli) contamination.

Findings from this study are expected to help inform policy-makers about the benefit of regularly testing domestic water wells and increase knowledge of groundwater quality within various hydrogeological settings in the Jackson Purchase Region of western Kentucky. This joint project between the University of Kentucky College of Public Health and the Kentucky Geological Survey was led by Karen Arrowood, MPH, under the direction of Glynn Beck, MS, of the Kentucky Geological Survey, Dr. Steve Browning of the University of Kentucky College of Public Health (Epidemiology), and Dr. Gail Brion of the UK Department of Civil Engineering.