Weizhe Weng receives Archer Early Career Grant to explore potential economic and health impacts of nitrate pollution on drinking water. 

To protect water users from potential health risks, it is important to understand what risk exists and how they may differ across geographic locations and water systems.

Weizhe Weng, an assistant professor of the University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS) food and resource economics department, will explore the potential economic and health impacts of nitrate pollution in Florida’s drinking water systems through Archer Early Career grant funding.

Weng, who joined UF in 2022, is an environmental economist whose research focuses on quantifying the interactions between human and natural systems, evaluating potential policy outcomes and providing a foundation to support science-based policymaking.

This new project will build upon her prior work on the Lake Mendota watershed in Wisconsin. Weng plans to create an exposure assessment for both public water systems and private wells and then use an integrated modeling tool to determine the health impacts and associated economic costs.

“Groundwater contamination is a constant focus in my research agenda,” Weng said. “Building on prior work, this project advances our understanding through an Integrated Assessment Model (IAM), which examines the health and associated economic impacts of drinking water contamination.”

According to Weng, assessing the impacts on different water systems will provide crucial context for policymakers when determining the cost-benefit analysis of government regulations targeting water quality improvements.

Weng said special attention should be paid to private wells since they are unregulated. Quantifying impacts on these water sources is crucial for educating private well owners.

“In the case of private wells, the responsibility for monitoring and treatment rests entirely with private well owners,” Weng said. “Such efforts can enhance awareness and understanding among private well owners, enabling them to make informed decisions regarding water quality testing, preventive measures and treatment options.”

By providing a clearer picture of the impact of water pollutants across geographic locations, this study will also bridge critical gaps in understanding the relationship between social vulnerabilities and the potential for disproportionate impacts of water pollutants, Weng said.

“Although there is existing research on the health impacts of nitrate pollution, there is much less focused on the disproportionate exposure to water pollution and associated risks among socially vulnerable communities,” Weng said. “By linking nitrate exposure and social vulnerability, our project provides a comprehensive picture of a community’s economic, social, environmental, and health status.”

The funding program was named after Douglas Archer, a former professor and chair of food science and human nutrition at UF/IFAS who served 10 years as associate dean for research. It was designed to support faculty early in their career at UF to build their research programs.

“I am deeply grateful for this opportunity, which I view as both a privilege and a profound source of inspiration,” Weng said.  “I learned from my senior colleague about Dr. Douglas Archer’s unwavering commitment and enthusiastic advocacy for faculty development. This is an aspect I hold in high esteem and deeply respect.”



Alena Poulin
Posted: April 23, 2024

Category: Natural Resources, UF/IFAS Research, Water
Tags: Food And Resource Economics, Food And Resource Economics Research

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