Examining the Relationship between Metals in Tap Water and Socioeconomic Inequality: A Spatial Analysis of Water Quality Disparities in Palm Beach County, FL

Authors: Meagan L. Weisner*, Florida Atlantic University, Tara L. Root, Florida Atlantic University, Michael S. Harris, Florida Atlantic University
Topics: Water Resources and Hydrology, Social Geography, Human Rights
Keywords: Drinking Water, Socioeconomics, Urban Inequality, Spatial Analysis
Session Type: Paper
Day: 4/5/2019
Start / End Time: 9:55 AM / 11:35 AM
Room: Committee Room, Omni, West
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

Drinking water treatment facilities must comply with Environmental Protection Agency regulations to ensure high quality drinking water is produced for the safety and health of consumers. However, as water leaves the utility, it travels through a variety of materials and outdated or corroded piping may impact the quality of water by the time it reaches the consumer’s tap. While society is responsible for the costs associated with repairing public water infrastructure, the cost of repairing outdated and corroded piping within the home falls on the property owner and low-income residents may have no way to pay for upgrades. This research identifies household water quality disparities in neighborhoods of varying socioeconomic status within a highly urbanized area – eastern Palm Beach County, FL. We look specifically at metals in tap water and how constituents may (or may not) correspond to social and economic status by using GIS spatial analysis techniques. A socioeconomic status index was constructed using Principal Components Analysis for each census tract within the study area and water samples (N=96) were collected from random households and tested for 10 different metals using Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical Emission Spectroscopy. This research is the first of its kind to look specifically at metals in household tap water across South Florida and to discuss, from an environmental justice standpoint, how water quality relates to social and economic conditions. The results from this study can be used to educate the public and inform water resource professionals about the variation in household water quality.

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