The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) recently reported that about 77 million people across the U.S. (25% of the U.S. population) have been served by water systems that have reportedly violated the Safe Drinking Water Act in 2015. Some of the offenses include: health based violations such as arsenic to nitrate contamination, as well as improper water monitoring and reporting of contamination levels, affecting more than 18,000 community water systems across the nation.
The federal drinking water rules are intended to protect against about 100 contaminants, such as toxic chemicals, bacteria and metals like lead that can cause health impacts like cancer, birth defects, and cognitive impairments.
Health-based violations of the rules were most frequently caused by (in order): a cancer-causing family of chemicals called disinfection byproducts; coliform bacteria; the failure to properly treat surface and groundwater to remove dangerous pathogens; nitrates and nitrites that can cause “blue baby syndrome”; and lead and copper.
“Threats on Tap: Widespread Violations Highlight Need for Investment in Water Infrastructure and Protections” found about 80,000 violations impacting drinking water systems in every state, but under-reporting and lax enforcement could mean the number of violations is much higher.
Repercussions for violations were virtually nonexistent – nearly 9 in 10 violations were subject to no formal action!
The report found the top dozen states with the most offenses based on population were (in order):
- New Jersey
Despite President Trump’s previous acknowledgements regarding the importance of “crystal clear water,” the new proposed 31% budget cuts to the Environmental Protection Agency’s 2018 budget serve as a new threat to the nation’s water supplies, including programs designed to protect the U.S.’s tap water.
A leaked memo showed that water-related programs and grants at EPA totaling more than $600 million are the chopping block. The budget also proposes to eliminate all $498 million dollars in funding for rural drinking water and wastewater systems from the Department of Agriculture.
Deeper budget cuts could spell disaster, especially for rural America.
Safeguarding our Tap Water
By improving the infrastructure and enforcing drinking water laws, we can easily make a difference. The NRDC recommends that the government must:
- Improve water infrastructure and modernize drinking water treatment plants. This includes removing the 6 million to 10 million lead service lines across the country.
- Increase funding for water infrastructure to protect health and create good jobs. Congress should increase water infrastructure funding, which will also create millions of well-paid jobs fixing the nation’s water system.
- Strengthen and enforce existing regulations, and establish new ones. Many contaminants found in drinking water – including pharmaceuticals and industrial chemicals – are not regulated, leaving everyone with potentially unsafe drinking water.
- Develop a more robust testing system for drinking water contaminants.
“Threats on Tap” is a follow-up to NRDC’s 2016 study that revealed widespread lead contamination in the tap water in Flint, Michigan, and towns across America. The full report, interactive maps, and FAQs are available online here. A consumer’s guide to safe water can be found here.