Treating and Drinking Well Water in the Presence of Health Risks from Arsenic Contamination: Results from a U.S. Hot Spot


Address correspondence to W. Douglass Shaw, Texas A&M University, Agricultural Economics, College Station, TX, USA.


The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 regulates water quality in public drinking water supply systems but does not pertain to private domestic wells, often found in rural areas throughout the country. The recent decision to tighten the drinking water standard for arsenic from 50 parts per billion (ppb) to 10 ppb may therefore affect some households in rural communities, but may not directly reduce health risks for those on private wells. The article reports results from a survey conducted in a U.S. arsenic hot spot, the rural area of Churchill County, Nevada. This area has elevated levels of arsenic in groundwater. We find that a significant proportion of households on private wells are consuming drinking water with arsenic levels that pose a health risk. The decision to treat tap water for those on private wells in this area is modeled, and the predicted probability of treatment is used to help explain drinking water consumption. This probability represents behaviors relating to the household's perception of risk.