2018 Progress Report: Drinking water vulnerability and neonatal health outcomes in relation to oil and gas production in the Appalachian Basin

EPA Grant Number: CR839249
Title: Drinking water vulnerability and neonatal health outcomes in relation to oil and gas production in the Appalachian Basin
Investigators: Deziel, Nicole Cardello , Saiers, James E. , Bell, Michelle L. , Plata, Desiree , Warren, Joshua , Ma, Xiaomei
Current Investigators: Deziel, Nicole Cardello , Saiers, James E. , Bell, Michelle L. , Ma, Xiaomei , Plata, Desiree , Warren, Joshua
Institution: Yale University
EPA Project Officer: Hahn, Intaek
Project Period: September 1, 2017 through August 31, 2020 (Extended to August 31, 2021)
Project Period Covered by this Report: September 1, 2017 through August 31,2018
Project Amount: $1,998,515
RFA: Oil and Gas Development in the Appalachian Basin (2016) RFA Text |  Recipients Lists
Research Category: Water , Human Health


Three main objectives of this project are: (1) advance a modeling framework to estimate drinking-water vulnerability to contamination by unconventional oil and gas (UOG) activities; (2) evaluate the vulnerability framework by comparing its predictions with water-quality measurements collected from households in Pennsylvania (PA) and Ohio (OH); and (3) investigate the association between exposure to UOG-related water contaminants and adverse neonatal outcomes in PA and OH using our vulnerability index as an exposure surrogate, while also accounting for other UOG stressors and factors related to social disadvantage (e.g., income, education).

Progress Summary:

Objective 1: Drinking-Water Vulnerability Assessment

The project is implementing a capture-zone approach to evaluate the vulnerability of residential drinking-water supplies to contamination by UOG development. A capture zone represents the contributing area of a groundwater well; in other words, it is the portion of an aquifer from which the well draws its water. The researchers use hydrologic models to simulate the capture zones of residential drinking-water wells and estimate vulnerability on the basis of their proximity to UOG infrastructure (e.g., well pads). Work towards developing and testing this vulnerability framework has involved four major tasks:

Database creation. A geographic information system (GIS) database comprised of thematic layers of local hydrogeology, topography, climatology, domestic and monitoring well locations, UOG well pads and other infrastructure was assembled. These data were drawn from various agencies, including the PA Department of Environmental Protection (PADEP), US Geological Survey (USGS), and Susquehanna River Basin Commission.

Model development. A fully three-dimensional model of subsurface flow and transport was constructed using a robust finite element hydrologic simulator. The physically based model was parallelized to run efficiently using Yale’s high-performance computing cluster.

Model calibration. Historical hydrologic observations for sections of northeastern Pennsylvania were assimilated to form calibration datasets. Hydrologic model performance metrics indicated satisfactory replication of field conditions.

Preliminary estimates of drinking-water vulnerability. The calibrated model was used to estimate drinking-water vulnerability of drinking water wells within northeastern Pennsylvania. Approaches for quantifying the uncertainty in these vulnerability estimates are currently being explored.

Objective 2: Drinking-Water Sampling and Analysis

The WATER Study team successfully executed the first phase of its sampling campaign in 2018 by targeting households in Bradford County, PA, where UOG has been particularly intensive. Home visits involved administration of a detailed questionnaire to a head-of-household, followed by collection of untreated well water and treated water for those homes with water softening or other treatment systems, and collection of GPS coordinates of the homes and drinking-water wells. Analysis of the water samples for nearly 100 inorganic and organic analytes is in progress and will be completed this fall. Preparation and execution of this sampling campaign was a major undertaking, involving work on several fronts as summarized below.

Protocols, Data Collection Instruments, Training, and Institutional Approvals. Written protocols and checklists were created for (i) participant screening, home-visit scheduling, and home interviews; (ii) water-sample collection, shipping, and storage; and (iii) water-sample analyses. Software was developed to record the collection and track shipment, receipt, and storage location of water samples. All project personnel completed human-research training, and those personnel involved in household visits completed interview training and sample collection training. WATER Study protocols, recruitment materials, consent forms, and data collection instruments received Institutional Review Board approval (Yale: 12/8/17; EPA: 1/2018).

Stakeholder Engagement. The project PIs presented webinars and in-person seminars to summarize the research components of the WATER Study to staff of EPA regional offices and to industry members of the American Petroleum Institute. State agencies, including the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, the Ohio Department of Public Health, and the West Virginia Office of Epidemiology and Prevention Services, were informed of the project team’s intention to collect household water samples. A website (http://waterstudy.yale.edu) was created to disseminate information about the study to federal and state agencies, as well as to the general public.

Participant Recruitment. To recruit participants, informational postcards were created and mailed to households in six Bradford County zip codes. In addition, project staff posted informational flyers at local businesses, distributed flyers at community events, posted to websites of local organizations and community groups, and advertisements were placed in local newspapers. A call center at Yale was staffed to respond to inquiries from potential participants, screen individuals for study eligibility, and schedule household visits with eligible participants.

Household Water Collection and Surveys. Home visits commenced in June 2018 and were conducted by two sampling teams, each consisting of water sampler and an interviewer. The interviewer administered a 50-question survey to gain demographic information, as well as information on home and drinking-water characteristics. Water samples were collected from every household where a survey was conducted. Eighty-three home visits were completed in August and an additional 11 visits were completed in September, for a total of 94 sets of households.

Laboratory Analyses. The water samples are being analyzed for major cations, major anions, trace metals, dissolved organic carbon (DOC), and dissolved inorganic carbon (DIC) at Yale University. Analyses for major anions, DIC, and DOC have been completed, while analyses for trace metals and major cations are projected for completion by mid-November 2018. Concurrently at MIT, analyses are being conducted to quantify levels of more than 60 different volatile- and semi-volatile organic compounds (VOCs and SVOCs), integrated gasoline range organic (GRO) compounds, methane, ethane, propane, as well as a preliminary screen of and diesel range organic compounds in order to prioritize further compound-specific analysis. The VOC and SVOC analysis is nearly complete, and other analyses are projected for completion in the coming two quarters.

Data Cleaning, Management, and Quality Assurance. The data management team has implemented procedures to ensure complete, accurate, and high-quality datasets. Questionnaires and protocols were reviewed for clarity, consistency, and utility of response data. Codebooks were created for each data collection instrument. Survey data collected in the field on paper forms were manually checked and hand-coded to identify errors or missing responses. Data from paper forms were entered into electronic databases, which were designed with variable restrictions to minimize errors. After data entry, algorithms were run to edit check data for inconsistencies, missing values and response error to ensure data validity. Errant data were corrected wherever possible with documentation. The final datasets are stored on secure servers at Yale University.

Objective 3: Epidemiologic Analysis of Neonatal Health Outcomes

The project will soon evaluate whether potential exposure to UOG-related water contaminants (as captured by the vulnerability index) is associated with incidence of adverse birth outcomes in the PA and OH study area, while accounting for the potential influence of socioeconomic and other chemical and non-chemical stressors on adverse birth outcomes. We are preparing IRB submissions and data requests for the PA and OH State Health Department to obtain birth certificates (2010-2014, inclusive).

Future Activities:

Year-2 Activities (September 1, 2018 - August 31, 2019)

Objective 1: Vulnerability Assessment.  The project will continue refinement of the physically based vulnerability model. The researchers will characterize the various sources of uncertainty affecting the predicted vulnerability, and investigate tradeoffs between this uncertainty and additional simplifications for increased run time efficiency. The project will expand the geographic extent of our physically based model, and evaluate the predicted vulnerabilities using the water quality measurements collected in our field study.

Objective 2: Drinking-Water Sampling and Analysis. The project will complete data cleaning and processing from the 2018 field sampling campaign. The researchers will complete laboratory analysis for the 2018 field study. The project will also begin data analysis to understand the distributions of chemicals in drinking water and how they compare to traditional proximity metrics and the newly developed vulnerability model. The project plans to conduct source apportionment analyses and to launch the 2019 field sampling campaign (approximately 400 homes).

Objective 3: Epidemiologic Analysis of Neonatal Health Outcomes. The project will construct the analysis dataset by obtaining the necessary health data from Ohio and Pennsylvania state agencies and obtaining the necessary sociodemographic data from the U.S. Census. The researchers will first conduct the epidemiologic analysis using traditional, simple proximity metrics while the vulnerability model is being calibrated and further developed. The project plans to ultimately use the vulnerability model to assign exposures to study subjects.

Journal Articles on this Report : 1 Displayed | Download in RIS Format

Other project views: All 17 publications 3 publications in selected types All 3 journal articles
Type Citation Project Document Sources
Journal Article Silva GS, Warren JL, Deziel NC. Spatial modeling to identify sociodemographic predictors of hydraulic fracturing wastewater injection wells in Ohio census block groups. Environmental Health Perspectives 2018;126(6):067008 (8 pp.).
abstract available   full text available
CR839249 (2018)
CR839249 (2019)
R835871 (2018)
R835871 (2020)
  • Full-text from PubMed
  • Abstract from PubMed
  • Associated PubMed link
  • Full-text: EHP-Full Text
  • Abstract: EHP-Abstract
  • Other: EHP-Full Text PDF
  • Supplemental Keywords:

    drinking water, vulnerability index, epidemiology, environmental exposures, fate and transport, children’s health, spatial surrogates

    Relevant Websites:

    The Yale WATER Study Exit


    Progress and Final Reports:

    Original Abstract
  • 2019 Progress Report
  • 2020 Progress Report