Ambria McDonald to lead study on Jackson water crisis

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Ambria McDonald

JANS – Ambria McDonald, a Murrah High School graduate, has embarked on an environmental study examining “Community Exposure to Potable Water Contaminants amidst Jackson, Mississippi Water Crisis”. As a Yale School of the Environment (YSE) PhD student, McDonald will join Dr. Dorceta Taylor, Professor of Environmental Justice at Yale, who is McDonald’s Advisor/Committee Chair as principal investigators. 

Dr. Yolanda McDonald, Vanderbilt University, Lead Investigator Drinking Water Justice Lab, will serve as collaborator.

The rationale behind this study is to explore what took place on August 29, 2022, when Jackson, Mississippi, residents experienced an unthinkable reality – they were left without potable water due to a failed water distribution system for an undisclosed amount of time. Unfortunately, this was not the first incident of water woes for this capital city. One month prior, on July 19, 2022, the City of Jackson released a public notice document explaining their Lead and Copper Rule (LCR) violations (failure to install adequate corrosion control). According to the City, these violations date back to 2015 (City of Jackson, 2022). 

Not only have residents been continuously facing unsafe water conditions, but residents of Jackson have also been under a boil water notice for intermittent months at a time due to the violations, with known lead and copper exceedances in the water supply. 

Leading health and environmental agencies (the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Environmental Protection Agency) both note that boiling water removes microorganisms (viruses, bacteria, protozoa, etc.), but boiling water with lead amplifies the metal – causing a higher than recommended exposure to those who consume it (CDC, 2022; U.S. EPA, U.S. CPSC, & U.S. HUD, 2021; U.S. EPA, 2022). This research aims to quantify lead concentration levels during boil water advisories and engage Jackson residents in a community-based participatory research (CBPR) approach to address critical gaps in water quality monitoring and public health protection.

Ambria McDonald points to three main objectives of the study:

1. Characterize water quality by analyzing bacteriological and metallic properties in household and facility tap sources.

2. Quantify exposure levels among vulnerable populations (children under 5, pregnant and/or nursing women, and elderly aged 65 and over).

3. Understand resident attitudes and perceptions about water supply and governance.

“These objectives support four main research questions,” notes Ambria:

1. What is the quality of water from in-home and in-facility tap sources across the city of Jackson?

2. Are vulnerable populations in Jackson households, primary schools / early education facilities, and retirement homes exposed to lead exceedances or corrosive metal residuals above the EPA’s maximum contaminant level?

3. After boiling water per Federal Regulation and City Recommendation, are vulnerable populations in Jackson exposed to lead exceedances or corrosive metal residuals above the EPA’s maximum contaminant level?

4. What are Jackson residents’ perspective about their water supply and current water governance structure, and future attitudes about water usage?

The aforementioned will be investigated via the following methodology:

• To recruit participants, the investigators are utilizing a multi-prong approach including local newspapers, community events, and non-profit organizations. Eligible participants will be selected via systematic random sampling.

• For sample collection, a citizen science approach will be utilized, ensuring community involvement. Water samples will be collected from kitchen and bathroom sinks for non-boiled samples because water must be stagnant in pipes for at least six hours prior to collection. For boiled water sample collection, the research team will measure water from the kitchen sink, followed by boiling in a stainless steel 5-quart pot for three minutes. The research team will provide the pot to ensure consistency of the sample. One minute of rolling boil will be observed before measuring temperature to ensure a temperature of 212 degrees Fahrenheit is met. Samples will undergo laboratory analysis by EPA-certified labs for quantification of bacteriological (total coliform & Escheria coli), metallic (lead copper, iron, zinc), and quality (chlorine, sulfate, pH, turbidity) properties. 

• Study participants will complete a qualitative survey about their household/facility water quality and intermittent supply (e.g., disruptions or no service), impact on their household/facility, their current attitudes and perceptions about their water supply, and to gauge their feelings of city-sanctioned water improvements and future in-home/facility water use.

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Ambria McDonald to lead study on Jackson water crisis

By Jackson Advocate News Service
June 3, 2024