Health protective behavior following required arsenic testing under the New Jersey Private Well Testing Act.

Author(s): Flanagan, S. V.; Gleason, J. A.; Spayd, S. E.; Procopio, N. A.; Rockafellow-Baldoni, M.; Braman, S.; Chillrud, S. N.; Yan Zheng

Source: International Journal of Hygiene and Environmental Health, 221 (6):929-940; 10.1016/j.ijheh.2018.05.008 2018

Abstract: Exposure to naturally occurring arsenic in groundwater is a public health concern, particularly for households served by unregulated private wells. At present, one of the greatest barriers to exposure reduction is a lack of private well testing due to difficulties in motivating individual private well owners to take protective actions. Policy and regulations requiring testing could make a significant contribution towards universal screening of private well water and arsenic exposure reduction. New Jersey’s Private Well Testing Act (PWTA) requires tests for arsenic during real estate transactions; however, the regulations do not require remedial action when maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) are exceeded. A follow-up survey sent to residents of homes where arsenic was measured above the state MCL in PWTA-required tests reveals a range of mitigation behavior among respondents (n = 486), from taking no action to reduce exposure (28%), to reporting both treatment use and appropriate maintenance and monitoring behavior (15%). Although 86% of respondents recall their well was tested during their real estate transaction, only 60% report their test showed an arsenic problem. Treatment systems are used by 63% of households, although half were installed by a previous owner. Among those treating their water (n = 308), 57% report that maintenance is being performed as recommended, although only 31% have tested the treated water within the past year. Perceived susceptibility and perceived barriers are strong predictors of mitigation action. Among those treating for arsenic, perceived severity is associated with recent monitoring, and level of commitment is associated with proper maintenance. Mention of a treatment service agreement is a strong predictor of appropriate monitoring and maintenance behavior, while treatment installed by a previous owner is less likely to be maintained. Though the PWTA requires that wells be tested, this study finds that not all current well owners are aware the test occurred or understood the implications of their arsenic results. Among those that have treatment installed to remove arsenic, poor monitoring and maintenance behaviors threaten to undermine intentions to reduce exposure. Findings suggest that additional effort, resources, and support to ensure home buyers pay attention to, understand, and act on test results at the time they are performed may help improve management of arsenic water problems over the long term and thus the PWTA’s public health impact.

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