RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. — A research team from Indiana University and RTI International, a nonprofit research institute, is seeking help from citizen scientists in four states for its study of a group of chemicals known as PFAS, or 'forever chemicals,' in private wells.
Supported by a grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, the researcher team will provide free testing kits to households in Washington, North Carolina, Indiana and Minnesota whose drinking water comes from private wells, enabling "citizen scientists" to collect and provide water samples for testing.
PFAS is an abbreviation for perfluoroalkyl and polyfluoroalkyl substances, which have been used for about 80 years in common household products, particularly those that are stain- and water resistant. They have been associated with numerous health problems, including high blood pressure, thyroid disorders and specific cancers. Because they do not easily degrade, they are often referred to as “forever chemicals.
"PFAS contaminants last a long time in the environment and have been found as far away as the North Pole, but we know very little about where and how often they occur in private well water," said Jacqueline MacDonald Gibson, chair of the Department of Environmental and Occupational Health at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington, who is principal investigator on the project. "With 13% of the U.S. population getting their drinking water from private wells, filling this information gap is very important to making sure everyone has access to safe drinking water."
Residents in Spokane County, Washington; Robeson County, North Carolina; Monroe County, Indiana; and Washington County, Minnesota, will receive postcards inviting them to participate in the study.
The Washington, Minnesota, and North Carolina counties were selected because they each are the site of a major PFAS user or producer. Monroe County, Indiana, is included as a comparison to understand private well water vulnerability to PFAS contamination from scattered but commonly found sources like septic tanks. Community leaders and residents of these four counties have been involved in study planning.
“We really look forward to connecting with residents interested in participating as citizen scientists to identify PFAS in rural well water,” said co-principal investigator Jennifer Hoponick Redmon, a senior environmental health scientist at RTI. “Our hope is that this research helps us better predict and communicate where PFAS exists in well water across the U.S.”
Chamindu Liyanapatirina, an analytical research chemist at RTI, is a co-investigator and will analyze water samples for PFAS using several methods. Amina Salamova, an associate scientist at the IU O’Neill School of Public and Environmental Affairs, is also a co-investigator.
Residents of the four communities may be eligible even if they did not receive a postcard from the research team. The researchers will notify selected residents by e-mail, U.S. mail, or phone. Selected residents will get a free water test kit with instructions on how to collect and ship samples, and they will receive personalized but confidential test results.
To learn more about the study and to inquire about enrolling, visit cleanwaterforuskids.org/foreverchemicals.
What the partners and study communities are saying:
"This is a great opportunity for private well owners. These test results will either give residents peace of mind or the knowledge that action needs to be taken to ensure their home has safe drinking water." -- Mike LaScuola, environmental health specialist at Spokane Regional Health District.
"Water is sacred to indigenous peoples and others who live here in Robeson County, North Carolina. Water is vital to tribal subsistence, cultural practices, health and welfare, agricultural production, and economic development." -- Beverly Collins-Hall, principal chief of the Cherokees.
"We are pleased to partner with the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington to test private wells in the county for PFAS. Because we do not currently test for PFAS, this will allow us to provide more comprehensive service to the community." -- Penny Caudill, health administrator for Monroe County, Indiana.
The results of this study "will improve the overall health of our area." -- Bill Smith, director of public health for Robeson County.
Unlike in the other communities, some residents of Washington County, Minnesota, are eligible for free PFAS water testing by the Minnesota Pollution Control Agency as part of the state’s legal settlement with 3M Corp. The settlement was reached in 2010 in response to state concerns that PFAS from 3M landfills had contaminated local water supplies. The IU–RTI research team is communicating with the state and with local governments in Minnesota, but the team’s study is independent of state and local agencies. Minnesota residents who participate in the IU–RTI study will still be eligible for free, state-provided water testing and access to bottled water, household water filters, or city water connections.
ABOUT RTI INTERNATIONAL
RTI International is an independent, nonprofit research institute dedicated to improving the human condition. Clients rely on RTI to answer questions that demand an objective and multidisciplinary approach — one that integrates expertise across the social and laboratory sciences, engineering and international development. For more information, visit www.rti.org.
To learn more about RTI International’s PFAS research, visit https://www.rti.org/focus-area/per-and-polyfluoralkyl-substances-pfas. To learn more about RTI International’s Clean Water for US Kids program, visit www.cleanwaterforUSkids.org.
IU's world-class researchers have driven innovation and creative initiatives that matter for 200 years. From curing testicular cancer to collaborating with NASA to search for life on Mars, IU has earned its reputation as a world-class research institution. Supported by $854 million last year from our partners, IU researchers are building collaborations and uncovering new solutions that improve lives in Indiana and around the globe.
To learn more about Indiana University’s role in this research, visit go.iu.edu/3UgC.