focus group; human health; Old Order Mennonite; Lancaster County, PA; Groffdale Old Order Mennonite Conference


The quality of drinking water can affect human and animal health, and plain-sect populations may be more susceptible than other rural populations due to their use of traditional farm management practices and their reliance on well water. Therefore, an interdisciplinary team conducted a pilot study to understand the status of existing drinking water quality, community perceptions regarding causes of water deterioration, its associated effect on human and animal health, and solutions to address such challenges. The study included water testing and a focus group discussion with plain-sect community members. The findings revealed that participants perceived the drinking water quality as potable and free from contamination which contradicted water testing reports, where 92% of water samples violated the standard drinking water quality parameters. Perceived causes of water deterioration included sulfate leaching, changes in farming practices, and commercial development. The participants also revealed human health (e.g., cancer, stomach ailments) and animal health (e.g., changes in milk production and conception rates) concerns but expressed no association of these health concerns with drinking water quality. This pilot study’s findings indicate that there exists a gap between perceptions of and actual drinking water quality and its relationship to health. More efforts are needed by health and conservation professionals to narrow the existing knowledge gaps by considering socio-cultural factors and appropriate scientific interventions related to best management practices of drinking water quality, and human and animal health, to achieve desired goals in plain-sect communities. [Abstract by authors.]


Special thanks to Greg Heigel for leveraging his trusting relationships to work with the plain-sect community; transdisciplinary project team members (Adrian Barragan, Kristin Sznajder, Eugene Lengerich, Leon Ressler, Cibin Raj, Kurt Wagner, Greg Heigel) for supporting project research activities and assistance during focus group discussion; plain-sect community members for participation in the focus group discussion; and graduate students (Farhan Sadique, Elsie Assan) who supported the research efforts. We also want to acknowledge JAPAS guest editors, Drs. Rosanna Hess and Braxton Mitchell, and anonymous reviewers for providing constructive feedback.