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Arsenic in Private Well Water Part I: Impact of the New Jersey Private Well Testing Act on Household Testing and Mitigation Behaviors
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    Regularly ingesting water with elevated arsenic increases adverse health risks. Since September 2002, the NJ Private Well Testing Act (PWTA) has required testing untreated well water for arsenic during real estate transactions in 12 counties. Its implementation provides an opportunity to investigate the effects of policy intervention on well testing and treatment behavior. Here we analyze results of a survey mailed to 1943 random addresses (37% response), including responses from 502 private well households who purchased their homes prior to PWTA commencement and 168 who purchased after. We find the PWTA has significantly increased arsenic testing rates in an area where 21% of wells contain arsenic above the 5μg/L NJ drinking water standard. The PWTA has allowed identification of more wells with arsenic (20% of post-PWTA vs. 4% of pre-PWTA households) and more treatment for arsenic (19% of post-PWTA vs. 3% of pre-PWTA households). Such an Act is a partial answer to significant socioeconomic disparities in testing observed among households for whom it is not required. Additionally residents purchasing homes since 2002 are younger and disproportionately more likely to have children in their household (60% vs. 32%), a priority group given their particular vulnerability to effects of arsenic. Despite more wells tested under the PWTA, post-PWTA well owners forget or misremember arsenic test results more often, are more likely to report not knowing what kind of treatment they are using, and are not reporting better maintenance or monitoring of their treatment systems than pre-PWTA households. This suggests serious challenges to reducing arsenic exposure remain even when testing is a requirement. Furthermore, only a fraction of wells have been tested under the PWTA due to the slow pace of housing turnover. We recommend more public resources be made available to support private well testing among socially and biologically vulnerable groups.

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