The Government of Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada's most eastern province, regularly tests public drinking water supplies to ensure acceptable levels of any microbiological, physical or chemical contaminants. Private water supplies, including wells, however, fall outside the mandate of these testing regimes and monitoring is the sole responsibility of the individual well owner. There are over 40,000 wells in Newfoundland and Labrador servicing approximately one-fifth of the total population. Limited information on private well water quality is available, especially for physical and chemical contaminants. Preliminary studies show that wells in parts of the province are contaminated with bacteria, arsenic, and fluoride, but the extent of this problem is unknown.
The previous studies led by Dr. Atanu Sarkar (funded by the Harris Centre) shows that since the responsibility of the monitoring the private water sources lies with the well owners and there has been no accessible water monitoring facility in the province for rural population, any form of serious health threat due to contamination remains undetected. Even if the well owners check water quality after sinking, some contaminants can take years to appear in the groundwater and thus initial satisfactory reports will not guarantee a safe source of drinking water for subsequent years. Therefore, regular monitoring of private water sources is needed to prevent any form of adverse health outcomes. The provincial government sends water samples for physical and chemical tests to an accredited private lab in Ottawa. For communities, deprived of public water supplies, it is very inconvenient using the existing analytical services due to the high cost and inaccessibility. Establishing and running any water quality monitoring lab without proper feasibility study always risks being unsustainable. The following project intended to look at what would be the best business/financial model to conduct well water monitoring and testing. It focused on assessing the public health risk from exposure to contaminants in the private well water, population perspective on proposed monitoring lab and exploring solutions and proposing a business model for the lab.
The study scanned the provincial government water quality reports of public wells and created a proxy model of the potential risk of private well contamination. The results show potential problems with toxic levels of arsenic, barium, cadmium, chromium, lead, mercury and selenium. In total, this model shows that 24,000 people or about 5% of the province's population are at risk for potential exposure to toxic drinking water contaminants, such as, arsenic, lead, barium, cadmium, chromium, mercury or selenium. The hidden threat is not only confined to the public health burden, but also has financial implications for the cost of treatment and disease. Public water supplies are monitored and have mechanisms in place to ensure public safety. With increased risk for cancer, cardiovascular disease, kidney damage, diabetes, neurological damage and developmental disorders, quality of life for residents of primarily rural parts of the province is a potential issue. But these risks are avoidable if regular monitoring takes place.
The information concerning population perspective was generated by conducting interviews of the well owners, representatives from municipal and provincial government, laboratory professionals and medical professionals across the province. Key messages from these interviews help to inform the solutions and address what the problem on the ground with the people who will be looking to utilize this service. A public education campaign should be mounted to raise awareness of the importance of water quality monitoring, as well as potential health risks from exposure to drinking water contaminants. Budgetary allowance for this education campaign is included in the financial modeling for the water quality monitoring service business model.
The business model, including financial projections and information on a possible configuration for analytical equipment, is presented as groundwork evidence for future entrepreneurs to use to develop such a service in Newfoundland and Labrador that is a sustainable solution to an important public health risk. Thematic interview analysis has informed the model and revealed barriers and challenges that must be overcome. Quantitative information, including detailed financial models, further illustrates solutions to the service gap are currently existing. This model shows that when coupled with legislative support and a modest price of $100 for a full testing suite, a sustainable solution exists to an important public health risk. In fact, the interviews of the well owners revealed their willingness to pay. However, the range varies. It is expected that proper social mobilization and proactive administrative support will enhance public utilization of the service in a regular manner, and eventually the lab will remain viable.