Investigating social inequalities in exposure to drinking water contaminants in rural areas

Environ Pollut. 2015 Dec;207:88-96. doi: 10.1016/j.envpol.2015.08.046. Epub 2015 Sep 11.


Few studies have assessed social inequalities in exposure to drinking water contaminants. This study explores this issue in 593 rural municipalities of Québec, Canada. Quartiles of an ecological composite deprivation index were used as a proxy of socioeconomic status. Total trihalomethanes (TTHMs) and lead were chosen as proxies of chemical drinking water quality. The results show that the majority of deprived rural municipalities apply no treatment to their water (26%) or use a basic treatment (51%), whereas a relative majority of the wealthiest municipalities (40%) use advanced treatment. The proportion of municipalities having important lead (>5 μg/L) levels is highest in most deprived municipalities. Moreover, most deprived municipalities have a higher risk of high tap lead levels (RR = 1.33; 95%CI: 1.30, 1.36). Conversely, most deprived municipalities have a lower risk of high TTHMs levels (RR = 0.78; 95%CI: 0.69, 0.86). These findings suggest an environmental inequality in drinking water contaminants distribution in rural municipalities.

Keywords: Chemical drinking water quality; Environmental justice; Rural areas.

Publication types

  • Research Support, Non-U.S. Gov't

MeSH terms

  • Cities
  • Drinking Water / analysis*
  • Environmental Monitoring
  • Humans
  • Lead / analysis*
  • Quebec
  • Rural Population
  • Socioeconomic Factors
  • Trihalomethanes / analysis*
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical / analysis*
  • Water Quality
  • Water Supply


  • Drinking Water
  • Trihalomethanes
  • Water Pollutants, Chemical
  • Lead