Drinking water woes

Environmental Working Group graphic showing extent of exposure to polluted tap water

“Don’t drink the water” might be too strong an admonition, but an investigation by the Environmental Working Group and reporters for the New York Times leads me to think before I drink. Even more so, this examination of the water consumed by millions of US citizens encourages me to recommend government action to promote the safety of drinking water. Folks are getting rocketfuel waste, weed killers, antibiotics, sex hormones, and other contaminants delivered to their taps.

Americans have good reason to worry about the safety of the drinking water that flows from their taps, according to the results of a 3-year investigation by the Environmental Working Group (EWG).

EWG assembled an unprecedented database of 20 million drinking water quality tests performed by water utilities since 2004. It reveals a total of 316 contaminants in water supplied to 256 million Americans in 48,000 communities in 45 states. Among the contaminants were 202 chemicals that are not subject to any government regulation or safety standards for drinking water. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set enforceable drinking water safety standards for only 114 of the 316 substances detected (EPA 2009b).

The results of the study, which are available both on the Times and the EWG Web sites, should serve as the proverbial wake-up call. As the accompanying figure shows, well more than ⅓ of the population receive tap water that contains unregulated contaminants. US laws require that many water systems test their waters and publish reports about contaminants. That’s good, but it appears to be insufficient. The tests may be too infrequent, may or may not include some contaminants that are linked to health risks, and may be inaccessible.

What’s in Your Local Water?

If you want to know what’s in your tap water, you may follow this link to the EWG site. Once there, you may enter your zip code and select your local water utility to extract data from the data base. Then you can determine what sort of filter you’ll may need.

Drinking bottled water apparently only provides an illusion of protection. According to the EWG, “Many popular brands are nothing more than bottled tap water, tainted with the same pollutants, and,” the executive summary continues, “the enormous growth of the bottled water market has bloated the nation’s solid waste stream with vast amounts of plastic.”

Jump to the EWG site about US drinking water, where one can consult the database about lots of locations and contaminants. Read the NY Times report, “Toxic Waters” A series about the worsening pollution in American waters and regulators’ response.”

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