Benefits of Collaboration Between a County Health Department and a Local University in North Carolina.

Author:Dye, Samantha
Position::DIRECT FROM CDC ENVIRONMENTAL HEALTH SERVICES
 
FREE EXCERPT

Groundwater quality is of great importance in the U.S. to protect public health. In Gaston County, North Carolina, more than 8,000 households use private wells for their drinking water supplies. The county's 220,000 inhabitants (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017a) face economic challenges with a median household income lower than the neighboring city of Charlotte (Figure 1) (U.S. Census Bureau, 2017b).

The Gaston County Department of Health and Human Services (GCDHHS) implements and enforces state rules and regulations on private wells. Its environmental health staff issue permits for the construction of private wells, ensure well drillers are licensed, inspect wells before issuing certificates of completion, collect water samples for mandatory testing, and assure that wells are repaired and abandoned properly.

To address resource constraints, GCDHHS is working with partners to evaluate groundwater quality and protect human health. Through a funding opportunity from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's (CDC) Safe Water for Community Health (Safe WATCH) Program, GCDHHS is working with the University of North Carolina at Charlotte (UNCC) to enhance its ability to assess and manage groundwater issues (CDC, 2018). The goal is to help private well users reduce exposures to potential contaminants in their water.

Challenges

Data on Existing Wells

Environmental health staff at GCDHHS have completed and filed paper forms with data on private wells since the county assumed responsibility of the well program in 1989. Recognizing that paper forms were difficult to search and lacked durability, GCDHHS planned to convert them to a more usable and durable form by digitizing data and maintaining records online. A limited workforce and lack of funds to contract the work were barriers to implementing the plan.

Groundwater Contamination: Past and Present

GCDHHS staff know about groundwater contamination issues caused by six active Superfund sites in the county (U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, 2018). Additionally, the North Carolina Department of Environmental Quality (NC DEQ) lists 55 sites as hazardous waste generators in Gaston County (NC DEQ, 2018a).

Other threats to potentially contaminate the county's groundwater include

* leachate from coal ash ponds at Duke Energy power generation plants in Mt. Holly and Belmont (NC DEQ, 2018b);

* naturally occurring arsenic in the western part of the county;

* point and nonpoint sources of pollution along the Catawba River (recharging county aquifers);

* cycles of decreased rainfall causing groundwater depletion and compromising water quality;

* septic systems that might be malfunctioning; and

* a growing number of older wells possibly ending their...

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