GSA Topical Session on karst contamination, health, and public policy

KWI is pleased to share upcoming opportunities for abstract submissions for the 2022 Geological Society of America Meeting in Denver, CO:

GSA Topical Session T211. Natural Contamination, Natural Hazards, Health Risk, and Public Policy: Success stories and models for managing, communicating, and updating policy to address health risks of natural contamination and hazards.”

This session is not strictly about groundwater or private wells. It is about naturally occurring contaminants and their public health impacts, including success stories of those who were able to change policies as a result of the challenge. The goal of this session is to come away with practical ideas that attendees can use in their work to protect public health. The session is sponsored by four GSA Divisions, and the organizers hope T72 will attract presenters who can share lessons learned about the application of geology to public policy and public health.

The electronic abstracts submission form opens May 1
Abstract submission deadline July 19 at 11:59 PM Pacific Time.
Denver Meeting Website

Session Description
This session will consider how managing the public health risks from natural hazards and contaminants are addressed differently than manmade contaminants. Available resources, policy, and educating the public are all handled differently. Share your successes.

Session Rationale
Manmade contaminants gain public attention in the press. Federal programs provide insight and oversight to delineate plumes, clean up contaminants, and provide affected residents with clean air, water, and earth. Many geologists are employed by environmental consultants to deal with these contaminants. Yet
according to USGS (DeSimone, 2009), the most common well water contaminants are naturally occurring. In 2013 Wake County, NC implemented a program to notify private well users about risks of man-made contamination, and in the ensuing 6 years tested several hundred wells for the synthetic organic
contaminants associated with such sites. The county’s 2016 review of a decade of well testing found that over 10% of tested wells exceeded the drinking water standard for uranium, while only about 1% exceeded drinking water standards for manmade contaminants. Comparison of the uranium testing data to detailed geologic mapping revealed that 20-30% of the wells in an area covering ½ the county, an area underlain by Pennsylvanian granitic intrusions, were likely to be contaminated with uranium or other radionuclides, a finding in accordance with DeSimone and others, 2009.

The fact that these contaminants are naturally occurring complicates and limits the ability of well users to mitigate their health risks. Wake County is not alone. It is estimated that approximately 15% of the US population obtain their drinking water from private wells (U.S. Census Bureau (USCB), 2009). Taking the USGS and USCB estimates together, approximately ten million people in the US are currently exposed to unsafe levels of naturally occurring contaminants in their drinking water, yet there are no federal programs to provide resources to educate or assist these users of unregulated wells. Well water is not the only pathway of exposure to contamination from naturally occurring contaminants. Session proponents would like to learn from others who have dealt with natural hazards or contaminants and the following: limited resources while managing public health risks; risk relative to public investment in resolving natural vs. manmade contaminants and hazards; models from natural disasters such as flooding and earthquakes; successful policy responses; outreach campaigns; and lessons learned.