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Drinking water in communities across the United States is at risk for contamination, in part because removing contaminants can be challenging and expensive. Harvard Public Health spoke with Nicole Deziel, an associate professor of epidemiology at Yale University and codirector of the Yale Center for Perinatal, Pediatric and Environmental Epidemiology, who is also lead author on a recent study about clean water access.

Why study this topic?

Drinking water regulations do not necessarily reflect the latest science. We only have drinking water standards for a handful of the many chemicals and pollutants that are present in our drinking water sources. Other chemicals have standards that haven’t been updated, so they may not reflect the latest research. In addition, about 15 percent of the population in the U.S. is served by private wells, which are not subject to regulation or monitoring.

What did you find?

The study highlights the urgent need for upgrading our drinking water infrastructure and having more monitoring data. It also highlighted justice issues. We docoumented higher levels of exposures in some communities with high proportions of minority or Indigenous populations.

What would you like to see happen based on the results of the study?

Drinking water standards should reflect the current science. And the U.S. needs to upgrade drinking water infrastructure, much of which is over 100 years old. I would really like to see coordinated effort on increased monitoring of environmental pollutants, as well as to have private wells monitored and tested.

—Leah Rosenbaum

(Study in Journal of Exposure Science & Environment Epidemiology, September 2023)

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