Children drinking private well water have higher blood lead than those with city water

Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A. 2020 Jul 21;117(29):16898-16907. doi: 10.1073/pnas.2002729117. Epub 2020 Jul 6.


Although the Flint, Michigan, water crisis renewed concerns about lead (Pb) in city drinking water, little attention has been paid to Pb in private wells, which provide drinking water for 13% of the US population. This study evaluates the risk of Pb exposure in children in households relying on private wells. It is based on a curated dataset of blood Pb records from 59,483 North Carolina children matched with household water source information. We analyze the dataset for statistical associations between children's blood Pb and household drinking water source. The analysis shows that children in homes relying on private wells have 25% increased odds (95% CI 6.2 to 48%, P < 0.01) of elevated blood Pb, compared with children in houses served by a community water system that is regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. This increased Pb exposure is likely a result of corrosion of household plumbing and well components, because homes relying on private wells rarely treat their water to prevent corrosion. In contrast, corrosion control is required in regulated community water systems. These findings highlight the need for targeted outreach to prevent Pb exposure for the 42.5 million Americans depending on private wells for their drinking water.

Keywords: blood lead; children’s health; drinking water; lead exposure; private well.

Publication types

  • Research Support, U.S. Gov't, Non-P.H.S.

MeSH terms

  • Child, Preschool
  • Drinking Water / standards*
  • Female
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Lead / blood*
  • Lead Poisoning, Nervous System, Childhood / epidemiology*
  • Male
  • North Carolina
  • Private Sector / statistics & numerical data*
  • Public Sector / statistics & numerical data*
  • Water Purification / economics
  • Water Purification / statistics & numerical data
  • Water Wells*


  • Drinking Water
  • Lead