Springing for Safe Water: Drinking Water Source Selection in Central Appalachian Communities

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Virginia Tech


There are rural residents of Central Appalachia that collect their drinking water from roadside springs despite having access to in-home piped point-of-use (POU) water. Residents have cited perceptions about water availability/quality as primary motivators for collecting drinking water from roadside springs. Water from roadside springs has been found to contain total coliform and E. coli, suggesting that consumers may be at an increased risk of contracting gastrointestinal illnesses. This research effort seeks to better understand roadside spring usage in Central Appalachia, by exploring motivations influencing potable water source selection and comparing household and spring water quality to Safe Drinking Water Act recommendations. Households were recruited from communities surrounding springs in three states (Kentucky, Virginia, and West Virginia). 24 tap water samples were collected from participating households and paired with samples from six roadside springs. Samples were analyzed for fecal indicator bacteria and inorganic ions. Study participants also completed short surveys to inventory their perceptions of their household drinking water. The majority of participants did not trust their home tap water, indicating water aesthetics as primary motivators for distrust of their homer water source. Statistical comparisons indicated that 10 water quality constituents (Cd, F, NO3-, Cu, Pb, Ag, Mn, Zn, Na, and Sr) were significantly higher in tap water samples and four constituents (total coliform, U, Al, and SO2-4) were significantly higher in spring samples. These results suggest that residents might be exposed to different risks based on their drinking water source and that water quality solutions must be devised case-by-case.



Appalachia, drinking water quality, point-of-use, roadside springs, total coliform, E. coli, heavy metals, maximum contaminant level, secondary maximum contaminant level