Can contaminants in the water we drink, such as particulate matter from wildfire smoke, increase our chances of getting cancer? A first-of-its-kind study, funded by UC Davis Comprehensive Cancer Center, will seek answers with the help of households that depend on private wells for water.

The Well Water Quality Awareness Campaign aims to study potential impacts of wildfire smoke on surface water and groundwater supplies, especially in fire-affected regions. The campaign will provide a $20 gift card and a free well report to study participants. Groundwater well users in northern and central California counties are eligible.

Department of Public Health Sciences Professor Shehnaz Hussain, a molecular epidemiologist, is partnering with Jasqueline Peña, a professor with the UC Davis Civil and Environmental Engineering Department, to conduct the study. They began recruiting participants in April.

“A lot of people in our region rely on well water, which is not monitored,” Hussain said, noting that particulates from wildfire smoke can penetrate the soil and seep into groundwater. “There’s no law in California to monitor the composition of heavy metals and other things in well water.”

To rectify this, the campaign will build a groundwater quality database.

“Through a citizen science approach, we want people to give us samples from their wells so we can develop a baseline database,” Hussain added.

The goal is to study wildfire events that happen near or upstream of participants in the study so that any changes in water quality can be studied.

“The intention is to deploy a rapid-response study that enables us to investigate post-fire impacts to water quality and to collect ash and burned soil samples,” Peña said.

People using wells for drinking water are urged to sign up for the study via the study webpage. Participants will be asked to collect and send in samples of their water and take a short survey about their household and their well.