UNC scientists, students map clean water across NC

Jackie MacDonald Gibson, professor of environmental sciences and engineering, started the project in 2013 and is leader of the team.

“To my knowledge, no one has looked at each county in a state before to map water access and disparity,” said Gibson in an interview with North Carolina Health News.

Gibson said she is using water samples, public records and other tools to create a map of clean water locations in the 100 North Carolina counties.

The project objectives include examining gaps and racial disparities in access to public water and sewer resources as well as investigating barriers to extending sewer service access, said Hannah Leker, a master’s student on the team.

She said the team hopes to have the project results published by the end of the year.

Leker said she is working on examining the racial disparities in access to public water and sewer resources.

“This objective will entail collecting statewide demographic data as well as data reporting levels of access to public water, mapping this data to visualize densely populated areas lacking access to public water and sewer, and analyzing the relationship between access to public water/sewer and variables such as race and socioeconomic status,” she said.

Leker said the project is important on many levels.

“This project is significant because it has the potential to identify areas potentially lacking access to safe, reliable and pathogen-free water sources and to provide a body of evidence for individuals in these areas to use in seeking access to safer water and sewer resources,” she said.

Julia Naman, another team member, said she performed interviews in communities to identify barriers for extending trash and sewer services.

“Though septic tanks and wells are acceptable alternatives to centralized water and sewer, they are also associated with health risks if they are not maintained properly,” she said.

Naman said a better understanding of these barriers can help improve water access to the entire state.

Leker said she also did the project for personal reasons.

“I decided to be involved in this project because as a native North Carolinian, I am interested in seeking to provide quality public health services to those living in my state,” she said. “I am interested in environmental justice and believe that there are still health disparities — such as those presented by unsafe drinking water — here in North Carolina that need to be addressed.”

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