A NEW TOOL HELPS AMERICANS KNOW WHAT HARMFUL CHEMICALS LURK IN THEIR DRINKING WATER
THE ENVIRONMENTAL Working Group recently released a new online tool that allows users to check the safety of their drinking water. With just a ZIP code, the database delivers information about the contaminants in the water utility serving that region. EWG has also issued a guidebook and a summary of the state of drinking water in America.
Many kitchen sinks across the U.S. pour water with chemicals that may pose health
risks. Investigations by the nonprofit EWG found that many water utilities are delivering industrial and agricultural contaminants in every glass of tap water. Whether the amounts of these chemicals are reason for concern is a matter of debate. The levels that federal and state regulatory authorities deem safe do not always match the scientific data on health risks.
To assess the safety of drinking water throughout the country, the EWG obtained data from state agencies and the Environmental Protection Agency for testing conducted from 2010 to 2015. A total of 48,172 utilities from all 50 states were included in the study.
In the EWG analysis, water samples from across the country tested positive for 267 of the 500 contaminants in the search. The chemicals included 93 the EWG says are linked to an increased risk of cancer, 78 that have been tied to brain and nervous system damage, 63 associated with developmental harm to children and fetuses, and dozens of others that may be implicated in fertility or hormonal problems. The levels of the contaminants in our everyday water supply are not necessarily high enough to cause this potential harm, however. And scientists aren’t sure whether all of these chemicals are directly responsible for the ailments to which they’re linked or if the connection is looser.
But there is reason to be concerned. As is well known, high levels of lead in the drinking water for residents of Flint, Michigan, caused a widespread and long-lasting crisis. Lead is unsafe at any level. According to the EWG, nearly 19,000 public water systems it surveyed contained lead exceeding 3.8 parts per billion, which is considered risky for formula-fed babies.
Some of the lesser-known compounds found in the tested water include the industrial chemical chromium-6; 1,4-dioxane, an industrial solvent and byproduct of some detergents and shampoos; and nitrates, which are used in agricultural fertilizers.
The EWG also found a correlation between income levels and water quality. Areas with a higher average income often had fewer contaminants than lower-income areas. The East Los Angeles Water District had the highest number of contaminants of all the regions tested. It serves 115,000 people and has a median income 20 percent below the national average. Those wishing to find out how safe their drinking water is can enter their ZIP code online at Ewg.org/tapwater.