Impacts of COVID-19 lockdown on private domestic groundwater sample numbers, E. coli presence and E. coli concentration across Ontario, January 2020–March 2021: An interrupted time-series analysis
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Public and environmental health
Approximately 1.5 million individuals in Ontario are supplied by private water wells (private groundwater supplies). Unlike municipal supplies, private well water quality remains unregulated, with owners responsible for testing, treating, and maintaining their own water supplies. The COVID-19 global pandemic and associated non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPIs) have impacted many environmental (e.g., surface water and air quality) and human (e.g., healthcare, transportation) systems over the past 15-months (January 2020 to March 2021). To date, the impact of these interventions on private groundwater systems remains largely unknown. Accordingly, the current study aimed to investigate the impact of a province-wide COVID-19 lockdown (late-March 2020) on health behaviours (i.e., private domestic groundwater sampling) and groundwater quality (via Escherichia coli (E. coli) detection and concentration) in private well water in Ontario, using time-series analyses (seasonal decomposition, interrupted time-series) of a large-spatio-temporal dataset (January 2016 to March 2021; N = 743,200 samples). Findings indicate that lockdown concurred with an immediate (p = 0.015) and sustained (p < 0.001) decrease in sampling rates, equating to approximately 2200 fewer samples received per week post-interruption. Likewise, a slightly decreased E. coli detection rate was observed approximately one month after lockdowns began (p = 0.003), while the proportion of “highly contaminated” samples (i.e., E. coli > 10 CFU/100 mL) was shown to increase within one month (p = 0.02), followed by a sustained decrease for the remainder of the year (May 2020–December 2020). Analyses strongly suggest that COVID-19 interventions resulted in discernible impacts on both well user behaviours and hydrogeological mechanisms. Findings may be used as an evidence-base for assisting policy makers, public health practitioners and private well owners in developing recommendations and mitigation strategies to manage public health risks during extreme and/or unprecedented future events.
T. Latchmore, S. Lavallee, M. Boudou, K. McDermott, R.S. Brown, P. Hynds, A. Majury, Impacts of COVID-19 lockdown on private domestic groundwater sample numbers, E. coli presence and E. coli concentration across Ontario, January 2020–March 2021: An interrupted time-series analysis, Science of The Total Environment, Volume 814, 2022, 152634, ISSN 0048-9697, DOI: 10.1016/j.scitotenv.2021.152634.