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Research

The Drinking Water Justice Lab (DWJL) focuses on research projects that increase awareness of drinking water injustice in the United States to provide evidence to inform policy to improve drinking water accessibility, affordability, and quality. Current projects range from assessing the technical, managerial, and financial capacity challenges facings community water systems in Tennessee to investigating the impact of drinking water contaminants on different human body organ systems.

All of these projects are grounded in the lab’s three primary theoretical frameworks:

Please explore the framework below to understand how our various projects fit within these frameworks.

 

 

 

Below is a brief summary of current DWJL research projects. Click  the tabs on the right to explore each project in-depth.

Drinking Water Newspaper Text Analytics

Goal: Pollution in the Press uses a socio-hydrological approach to evaluate local awareness of drinking water quality issues. By employing text analytics, we explored the potential drivers of regional water quality narratives within 25 local news sources across the United States. The goal of the research was to extend our current understanding of variations in local narratives to consider nuances of water quality issues and indicate opportunities for increasing equity in environmental risk communication.

Research Assistants: Mariah D. Caballero

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Jonathan Gilligan, Dr. Thushara Gunda, & Dr. Yolanda J. McDonald

Human Body Organ Systems Contaminants Framework

Goal: This project aims to assess how regulated drinking water contaminants within community water systems (CWSs) in the U.S. impact different Human Body Organ Systems (HBOS).

Research Assistants: Christopher Bozorgmehr (Lead), Minoli Fernando, Kaitlin Spiridellis, & Emily Murray (University of Missouri)

Faculty Advisors: Dr. Preetam Cholli, Dr. Camellia R. Koleyni, & Dr. Yolanda J. McDonald

Student Alumni: Katherine Allison & Rachel McKane

Machine Learning approach to predicting PFAS contamination in Community Water Systems (CWSs)

Goal: Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances or PFAS are an emergent class of contaminant molecules harmful to human health. PFAS testing is currently conducted on a limited, statewide basis. While millions of Americans are potentially exposed to PFAS compounds through their drinking water, only 17 states have enforceable standards, guidance levels, or require notification of presence in drinking water. To predict PFAS presence in community water systems (CWSs), we train a series of machine learning models based on observations from existing testing performed by the Kentucky Department of Environmental Protection.

Research Assistants: Aakash Manapat

Faculty Advisor: Dr. Hiba Baroud, Dr. Ke Jack Ding, Dr. Jonathan Gilligan, & Dr. Yolanda J. McDonald

Tennessee Community Water System (CWS) Estimated Service Area Boundary (ESAB) Digitization Process

Goal: The Tennessee Community Water System (CWS) Estimated Service Area Boundary (ESAB) Digitization Process is a state-sponsored research project. For this project, DWJ L members partnered with the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation (TDEC), the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH), and the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts (TAUD) to visualize and analyze community water systems throughout Tennessee. The DWJL has employed both QGIS and ArcMap to digitize community water systems from TDEC field offices. These digitization processes will enable the DWJL, TDH, TDEC, and TAUD to implement data geovisualization strategies to analyze these data to inform drinking water policy, environmental health policy, and emergency preparedness to extreme weather in Tennessee.

Research Assistants: Marie Caiola (Lead), Samantha Wyman, Meiyan Wu, & Eleanore Crone

Faculty Advisors: Dr. Ke Jack DingDr. Yolanda J. McDonald

Student Alumni: Austin FernandezMinoli FernandoKaitlin SpiridellisMeena MuthusubramanianAshley Kim, Aakash Manapat,  Rachel FloresAdrienne Parks, & Dmitry Semenov

Tennessee Dental Caries Prevention: Fluoride Levels in Community Water Systems (CWSs)

Goal: The Tennessee Dental Caries Prevention Project evaluated the Tennessee Oral Health Plan program’s spatial selection of intervention efforts. The project assessed if dental services in Tennessee are in the areas of greatest need. The ‘area of greatest need’ was defined as a community served by a water system that did not meet the recommended American Dental Association (ADA) fluoridation level to prevent dental caries (i.e., cavities), 0.7 parts per million.

Research Assistants: Ashley Kim

Faculty Advisors: Dr. Ke Jack Ding, Dr. Yolanda J. McDonald, & Dr. Derek K. Smith

Tennessee Private Wells Project

Goal: The Tennessee Private Wells Project is a multi-methods pilot study conducted in rural Tennessee. The project was a collaborative effort with the Tennessee Department of Health (TDH), funded by the National Environmental Health Association (NEHA). The goal of this project was to develop a methodology to estimate populations reliant on private well drinking water sources and associated risk of contamination.

Research Assistants: Mariah D. Caballero (Lead) & Austin Fernandez

Faculty Advisors: Dr. Yolanda J. McDonald

Tennessee Public Water Operator Survey

Goal: The Tennessee Public Water Operator Survey project is a community-based participatory research project. For this project, DWJL members partnered with the Tennessee Association of Utility Districts, the Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation, and the Tennessee Department of Health to create and implement a statewide survey that asks frontline water professionals to assess their systems’ technical, managerial, and financial capacity.

Research Assistants: Kayla M. Anderson (Lead)

Faculty Advisors: Dr. Jonathan Gilligan & Dr. Yolanda J. McDonald

Student Alumni: Mia Dillon & Cate Paxton

United States Community Water System (CWS) Estimated Service Area Boundary (ESAB) Geospatial Database

Goal: The United States Community Water System Estimated Service Area Boundary (ESAB) Geospatial Database project sought to develop a comprehensive database of available ESAB of community water systems in the United States. The primary goal of the project was to develop geospatial database that enables race/ethnicity, socioeconomic, water justice analyses at the community water system level rather than a larger unit of analysis such as municipal, county, or state-level.

Research Assistants: Kayla M. Anderson, Mariah D. Caballero, & Caroline Morkel

Faculty Advisors: Dr. Doug Fisher, Dr. Elaine Hill (University of Rochester Medical Center), Dr. Ke Jack Ding, & Dr. Yolanda J. McDonald

United States Comprehensive Drinking Water Database

Goal: This project aims to create a database that is structured to function as a Comprehensive Drinking Water Database (CDWD). The CDWD will integrate the Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS) reports, Census data, and community water system estimated service area boundaries datasets. The CDWD will facilitate research studies that assess the relationship between drinking water quality, race/ethnicity, and socioeconomics at the national, state, county, or community water system (CWS) level. The DWJL research team must currently manually construct a variable for a CWS without violations; this process will be automated, reducing the potential for human error and saving valuable time. This database tool will feature an easy-to-use interface and RStudio scripts for as-needed custom programming.

Research Assistants: Meena Muthusubramanian (Lead) & Ritvik Singh

Faculty Advisors: Dr. Doug Fisher, Dr. Ke Jack Ding, & Dr. Yolanda J. McDonald

Student Alumni: Ujjwal Jain & Juan C. Martinez