Superfund Research Program
Characterization of Drinking Water Contaminants and Perinatal Health Effects in Disadvantaged Communities
Project Leader: Rachel Morello-Frosch
Co-Investigator: Lara Cushing (San Francisco State University)
Grant Number: P42ES004705
Funding Period: 2022-2027
- Project Summary
Project Summary (2022-2027)
This project of the University of California (UC) Berkeley Superfund Research Program (SRP) Center conducts discovery- and community-driven research in some of California’s most vulnerable communities to elucidate the perinatal health effects associated with exposures to drinking water contaminant mixtures (Aim 1), characterizes the presence of chemical contaminants in drinking water of current and emerging health concern (Aim 2), and reports back results to participants, communities, and agency decision-makers to inform public health actions (Aim 3). Over three quarters of the public water systems that are out of compliance are in just seven of California’s 58 counties in the southern San Joaquin (Tulare Lake Basin), and Salinas Valleys, where industrial and agricultural activities have resulted in elevated levels of hazardous chemicals in drinking water. These contaminants include arsenic, nitrate, pesticides, hexavalent chromium, and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), which each have documented health effects such as carcinogenicity, developmental effects, and endocrine disruption. That these exposures occur in disadvantaged communities that are disproportionately Latinx raises environmental justice concerns and underscores the need for community-engaged research.
This project is conducting research through the auspices of the Water Equity Science Shop (WESS), a multidisciplinary collaboration that includes the Community Water Center, the University of California at Berkeley and Los Angeles, Silent Spring Institute, and the California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment. Together WESS members collaborate with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Center for Computational Toxicology and Exposure and BC Labs to carry out the project aims. The collective assesses the perinatal health effects of multiple drinking water contaminants found in community water systems and domestic well areas in the Salinas Valley and Tulare Lake Basin using mixtures methods and machine learning to characterize heterogeneous effects of contaminants on fetal growth outcomes in a demographically diverse study population (Aim 1: N=740,000 births). The research group recruits and samples tap water from 100 households in the same regions to characterize drinking water threats from regulated and novel unregulated compounds using data-driven methods, including dasymetric mapping techniques, to identify and prioritize disadvantaged communities for study testing. They then apply targeted and non-targeted analyses of tap water samples to characterize the presence of multiple regulated and unregulated novel compounds of current and emerging concern for cancer, developmental toxicity, and endocrine disruption (Aim 2). Finally, project researchers are developing and deploying novel digital tools for report back of individual and aggregate contaminant measurements to households and stakeholders to elucidate solutions to prevent and reduce exposures (Aim 3). The combination of prior successful partnership, scientific expertise, and deep community knowledge makes the WESS well-suited to conduct the collaborative science needed to effectively address drinking water threats and associated health risks in California’s most vulnerable communities.