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Kids Drinking From Private Wells Have Higher Lead Risk, Finds N.C. Study

A new study says children drinking from private water wells may be more likely to have unsafe levels of lead in their bloodstreams.

The study comes from Indiana University and looked at families in North Carolina, where about a third of residents use private wells.

In New Hampshire, that proportion is closer to half.

Author Jacqueline MacDonald Gibson, who heads IU’s environmental health department, said the study is one of the first to look at the link between lead exposure and private wells.

"Basically, the households relying on private wells have to be stewards of their own water quality,” she said.

Her study found the elevated risk extended to children in rural homes. And children using private wells near urban areas – especially Black children – were especially likely to have higher levels.

Lead in water usually comes from older pipes and fixtures - potentially any installed up to 2016, when federal law changed.

Gibson said her study shows all private well users should be regularly testing their water to determine if they have a problem. But she said states should also do more to help.

"So much expertise goes into managing a community water supply,” she said. “It's too much to expect that individual homeowners can bring that same level of expertise to managing the safety of their water."

Last year, New Hampshire tightened its lead standards for water in schools and paint in rental housing. The state also offers resources to test for lead at home.

Homeowners can also find testing and maintenance resources through the National Groundwater Association.

Annie has covered the environment, energy, climate change and the Seacoast region for NHPR since 2017. She leads the newsroom's climate reporting project, By Degrees.
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