Analysis Finds Hundreds of Pollutants in U.S. Tap Water

An analysis of 20 million tap water quality tests (from water utilities) over the last five years in the U.S. was undertaken by Environmental Working Group (EWG), and found 316 contaminants in water provided for public consumption. Of those contaminants, only 114 of them have enforceable standards from the Environmental Protection Agency EPA).

Image: annia316Water Tap
Water Tap

“The nation’s tap water has been compromised by weak federal safeguards and pitiful protection of drinking water supplies.” – Jane Houlihan, Senior Vice President for Research at EWG

The 202 other chemicals with no mandatory safety standards were present in water supplied to approximately 132 million people in almost 10,000 communities across the U.S.. These chemicals include perchlorate (toxic rocket fuel component), metolachlor (a weed killer), acetone (an industrial solvent), radon (highly radioactive gas), and Freon (a refrigerant).

Tap Water Pollutants
Tap Water Pollutants

The pollutants found in the quality tests usually don’t violate any legal standards, but can often come in potentially toxic combinations, raising serious questions about the long-term safety of drinking the water without further purification.

“This water may be legal, but it raises serious health concerns. People expect better water than that, and they deserve it.” – Houlihan

Las Vegas, NV, Riverside, CA, and Pensacola, FL, earned the dubious distinction of topping the list of cities with the lowest quality and most contaminated water, with many pollutants at levels that exceed government health guidelines.

On the list of top rated large water utilities are Fort Worth, TX, Arlington, TX, and Providence, RI. These municipalities reported that they test for a large number of chemicals beyond those required by the federal government, and tests found relatively low levels (or none at all) of some of the most common toxic pollutants in water.

According to EWG,Β  industry market studies show that utilities spend over $4 billion a year on water treatment chemicals, yet less than one twentieth of that amount is invested in protecting the source water protection and on preventing water pollution (an average of $207 million a year).

EWG also says that U.S. law does not require tap water to be safe for long-term consumption. The risks of cancer over the long run, and other health threats, are balanced against the cost and feasibility of purification, which means that exposure to pollutants at levels that have related health risks is allowed under current legislation. And hundreds of contaminants have no legal limits, so that any amount present in water is considered legal.

Source of contaminants
Source of contaminants

The analysis found that the sources of contaminants come from a diverse range of sources: agriculture, factory discharges, consumer products, runoff, wastewater treatment plants, as well as byproducts of water treatment processes.

One conclusion of the study is that until our water infrastructure is modernized and tougher safety standards are enforced, filtering our tap water is the best option.

The searchable database of water test results from EWG allows you to check out the quality of water in your community.

Written by Derek Markham


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