Strontium in Drinking Water: Assessing Strontium as a Drinking Water Contaminant in Virginia Private Wells

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Virginia Tech


Approximately 80% of Virginians with private drinking water (PDW) sources are unaware of the quality of their drinking water. Strontium is a water quality contaminant gaining recognition at the federal level. At concentrations >1.5 mg/L, strontium substitutes calcium in the bones leading to bone density disorders (e.g. rickets). This is particularly problematic for children and individuals with low calcium and low protein diets. Because most Virginians do not know the quality of their PDW and since strontium poses a public health risk, this study investigates the sources of strontium in PDW in Virginia and identifies the areas and populations most vulnerable. Physical factors such as rock type, rock age, and fertilizer use have been linked to elevated strontium concentrations in drinking water. Meanwhile, social factors such as poverty, poor diet, and adolescence also increase social vulnerability to health impacts of strontium. Thus, this study identifies both physically and socially vulnerable regions in Virginia using water quality data from the Virginia Household Water Quality Program and statistical and spatial analyses conducted in RStudio 1.0.153 and ArcMap 10.5.1. Physical vulnerabilities were highest in the Ridge and Valley province where geologic formations with high strontium concentrations (e.g., limestone, dolomite, sandstone, and shale) are the dominant the aquifer rocks. The complex relationship between agricultural land use and strontium concentrations made it difficult to determine the impact of fertilizer use on strontium concentrations in PDW in Virginia. In general, the spatial distribution of social vulnerability factors was distinct from physical factors with the exception of food deserts. This study provides information and analysis to help residents of Virginia understand their risk of strontium exposure in PDW.



Water quality, Private drinking water, Virginia, Strontium, Wells