Read the full story in Pacific Standard.
Walk through an unincorporated stretch of Wake County outside Raleigh, North Carolina, and it might look just as dense and developed as the town proper. But there’s an important, invisible difference: Folks there may not have access to the city’s municipal water system. Instead, their homes draw from private wells and septic tanks.
While not all unincorporated Wake County communities lack piped water, those that have a larger black population are more likely to depend on wells and septic tanks, according to a 2014 study. “They were excluded probably for historical reasons, during the Jim Crow era,” says University of North Carolina–Chapel Hill environmental researcher Jackie MacDonald Gibson, the leader of the 2014 study.
Now, MacDonald Gibson has a new study that demonstrates the toll that history has had on residents’ health. The kitchen tap water in majority-black Wake County communities that depend on wells is more than 50 times more likely to contain coliform bacteria — and more than 700 times more likely to contain E. coli — than the municipal water that’s available to majority-white neighborhoods just next door.