Water quality monitoring records for estimating tap water arsenic and nitrate: A validation study

Susan Searles Nielsen, Carrie M. Kuehn, Beth A. Mueller

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Scopus citations


Background. Tap water may be an important source of exposure to arsenic and nitrate. Obtaining and analyzing samples in the context of large studies of health effects can be expensive. As an alternative, studies might estimate contaminant levels in individual homes by using publicly available water quality monitoring records, either alone or in combination with geographic information systems (GIS). Methods. We examined the validity of records-based methods in Washington State, where arsenic and nitrate contamination is prevalent but generally observed at modest levels. Laboratory analysis of samples from 107 homes (median 0.6 g/L arsenic, median 0.4 mg/L nitrate as nitrogen) served as our "gold standard." Using Spearman's rho we compared these measures to estimates obtained using only the homes' street addresses and recent and/or historical measures from publicly monitored water sources within specified distances (radii) ranging from one half mile to 10 miles. Results. Agreement improved as distance decreased, but the proportion of homes for which we could estimate summary measures also decreased. When including all homes, agreement was 0.05-0.24 for arsenic (8 miles), and 0.31-0.33 for nitrate (6 miles). Focusing on the closest source yielded little improvement. Agreement was greatest among homes with private wells. For homes on a water system, agreement improved considerably if we included only sources serving the relevant system ( = 0.29 for arsenic, = 0.60 for nitrate). Conclusions. Historical water quality databases show some promise for categorizing epidemiologic study participants in terms of relative tap water nitrate levels. Nonetheless, such records-based methods must be used with caution, and their use for arsenic may be limited.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4
JournalEnvironmental Health: A Global Access Science Source
Issue number1
StatePublished - 2010


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