CHAMPAIGN, Ill., 10/26/22: Evan Rea, head of the Health and Environmental Applications Laboratory (HEAL) at the Illinois State Water Survey (ISWS) at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign (U. of I.), was recently awarded a grant by the U. of I. Chancellor’s Office to sample private wells in the Chicago metro area. The Chancellor’s Call to Action to Address Racism & Social Injustice Research Program provides $2 million annually to U. of I. researchers to support projects that address systematic racism and social justice, law enforcement and criminal justice reform, and disparities in health and health care.
Rea says that it is a great fit to look at the racial, ethnic, and socioeconomic health disparities in private well water quality, as well as to promote good well stewardship for well owners in an underserved area.
“This project is a great opportunity for HEAL to branch out of the lab and work directly with the public,” said Rea. “Thanks to OVCDEI (Office of the Vice Chancellor for Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion), we can offer free testing to eliminate the barrier of analytical cost to private well users and shed some light on equity in drinking water quality in Illinois.”
A team of experts is assisting with the project. Margaret Schneemann from U. of I. Extension is completing the GIS work to identify areas for potential sampling. Sheena Martenies from the College of Applied Health Sciences is developing the voluntary survey and providing her findings on well owner knowledge, beliefs, and attitudes. Steve Wilson from the ISWS is assisting in locating wells to sample, interpreting results, and providing education and outreach to the study participants.
The project started in August 2022 and sampling is expected to take place in early 2023. It involves identifying potential diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) areas where private wells are used, offering free well water testing to up to 100 homes in those areas, determining well owners’ knowledge and beliefs regarding their well and water quality through a voluntary survey, and providing outreach and education on their sampling results and mitigation of any identified issues. HEAL, which has been sampling private wells in Illinois for more than 100 years, will conduct the water sample analysis.
Schneemann has developed a draft map of private wells in areas that are majority non-white and have poverty rates that are above the Cook County average, identified using available census track data from the American Community Survey. Several target areas have been identified to evaluate further for inclusion in the study. Current efforts are underway to finalize the survey and contact non-profits and health officials in these areas to coordinate the identification of participant homes.
Media contact: Evan Rea, firstname.lastname@example.org