Health-based drinking water violations: A human body systems framework to understanding human health impacts.

Authors: Yolanda McDonald*, Vanderbilt University, Emily Murray, University of Missouri, Preetam Cholli, Vanderbilt University Medical Center, Katherine Allison, Vanderbilt University, Elaine Hill, University of Rochester Medical Center
Topics: Medical and Health Geography, Water Resources and Hydrology, Environment
Keywords: Safe Drinking Water Act, Drinking water contaminants, health
Session Type: Virtual Paper
Day: 4/8/2021
Start / End Time: 9:35 AM / 10:50 AM
Room: Virtual 44
Presentation File: No File Uploaded

The public health impact of contaminated water in the United States is largely unknown outside of failures in water treatment, aging infrastructure, and extreme weather events. The predominant health-based approach to assessing outcomes associated with drinking water links specific illnesses (e.g. water-borne disease) to single associated contaminants. This clinical approach is influenced by the Safe Drinking Water Act, a US public health law which is designed to regulate single contaminant exposure and health. We posit that this ‘illness endpoint’ oriented approach is flawed because the human body experiences multiple contaminants simultaneously when exposed to contaminated drinking water. We used a novel approach to investigate how multiple contaminants in the public drinking water supply can potentially affect human body systems as opposed to focusing on specific illnesses, which is the typical approach. We examined health-based violations in the US drinking water (2011-2015) supply and mapped contaminants regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act to each human body system affected. We found that the top three systems taxed by multiple contaminants were the digestive, lymphoreticular, and renal systems. This novel approach has the potential to reimagine and shape our understanding of the relationship between human health and drinking water.

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