Approximately 15% of U.S. households, which encompass 43.5 million people, rely on private water supplies (defined for this article as water wells that are not part of a public water system) such as private wells for drinking water (Belitz, Jurgens, & Johnson, 2016; U.S. Environmental Protection Agency [U.S. EPA], 2018). In Kansas, between 151,000 and 177,000 individuals are supplied by approximately 70,000 private water wells (Belitz et al., 2016; Kansas Geological Survey, 2016; Maupin et al., 2014; U.S. Census Bureau, 2017).
Most private water wells use groundwater for their water source, so water quality can vary significantly. Many contaminants affect private well water quality. Impacts to groundwater quality can result from agricultural pesticides, industrial chemicals, onsite wastewater systems, leaking underground storage tanks, landfills, and natural sources (e.g., arsenic) migrating into groundwater. Approximately 23% of private water wells contain one or more contaminants at or above at least one benchmark considered harmful for human health (DeSimone, Hamilton, & Gilliom, 2009). In a national sample of 219 domestic water wells, more than one in five wells had contaminants that exceeded public drinking water standards or other human health benchmarks (DeSimone et al., 2009).
Despite the large number of potential contaminants and the millions of people in the U.S. who rely on private wells for their drinking water, private water systems are largely unregulated at federal and state levels (i.e., not regulated by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act or parallel state safe drinking water acts). No federal policy requires sampling or analysis of these private water wells. Accordingly, the regulation of private water supplies predominantly remains under the purview of local authorities (Wallender, Ailes, Yoder, Roberts, & Brunkard, 2014). Private water well owners are largely left on their own to assess and protect the quality of their well water.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency recommends that private water well owners sample their wells annually and contact local health and environmental agencies for assistance with sampling (U.S. EPA, 2002, 2017, 2018). Despite these recommendations, insufficient resources are available at local health and environmental agencies to support private water well owners (Chappells et al., 2014). With this study, we sought to identify the practices of local environmental health agencies in Kansas regarding private water well sampling and analysis.
In 2016, current members of the Kansas Environmental Health Association (KEHA), the professional organization for environmental health professionals in Kansas, were identified as potential participants. KEHA membership is open to anyone who wishes to join and consists primarily of environmental health professionals from Kansas cities, counties, and the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. Responses were solicited from those attending either of the two semiannual meetings or via an electronic survey invitation. We requested one survey per respondent.
The survey instrument comprised 18 items that addressed the respondents' organizational practices regarding private well inspection, sampling, analysis, and data sharing. The survey also assessed the type of organization represented by the respondents (e.g., city, county), as well as their education and professional training. Responses to the in-person surveys and the electronic surveys were compiled and analyzed using SPSS version 23.0. Univariate analyses were conducted, and frequencies and percentages are reported.
Of the 61 KEHA members, 55 completed the survey, for a response rate of 90%. Of these 55 respondents, 2 indicated they were retired and 1 submitted an incomplete survey; these 3 respondents were omitted from the analysis for a final sample of 52.
Respondents were most likely to indicate they represented a single county (22, 43%) or city agency (9, 18%), followed by those who worked for multiple county regions (7, 14%) or statewide agencies (7, 14%) (Table 1). Most respondents (34, 81%) reported that they had earned at least a 4-year college degree and some (5, 12%) indicated they had earned a graduate-level degree. Respondents were most likely to report having been educated in microbiology (26, 59%), geology (13, 30%), or hydrology (12, 27%). Respondents were most likely to report that their water well-specific training consisted of seminars or conferences (19, 45%) or on-the-job training (13, 31%). Lastly...