Sustainability and Social Justice

Document Type



Half of U.S. drinking water comes from aquifers, and very shallow ones (table) are especially vulnerable to anthropogenic contamination. We present the case of Holliston, a Boston, Massachusetts suburb that draws its drinking water from very shallow aquifers, and where metals and solvents have been reported in groundwater. Community concerns focus on water discolored by naturally occurring manganese (Mn), despite reports stating regulatory aesthetic compliance. Epidemiologic studies suggest Mn is a potentially toxic element (PTE) for children exposed by the drinking-water pathway at levels near the regulatory aesthetic level. We designed an integrated, community-based project: five sites were profiled for contaminant releases; service areas for wells were modeled; and the capture zone for one vulnerable well was estimated. Manganese, mercury, and trichloroethylene are among 20 contaminants of interest. Findings show that past and/or current exposures to multiple contaminants in drinking water are plausible, satisfying the criteria for complete exposure pathways. This case questions the adequacy of aquifer protection and monitoring regulations, and highlights the need for integrated assessment of multiple contaminants, associated exposures and health risks. It posits that community-researcher partnerships are essential for understanding and solving complex problems.

Publication Title

Water (Switzerland)

Publication Date











community based participatory research (CBPR), drinking water, exposure pathways, Manganese (Mn), shallow aquifers



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