By Aaron Kesel
The Environmental Working Group, a non-profit research organization environmental watchdog, released a searchable database Thursday that shows almost 50,000 public water systems in the U.S. are contaminated with dozens of harmful chemicals.
EWG researchers spent the last two years collecting data from independent state agencies and the EPA for drinking water tests conducted from 2010 to 2015 by 48,712 water utilities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Researchers tested the utilities for approximately 500 different contaminants, finding a whopping 267 contaminations of Americans’ water supplies.
EWG’s database is an interactive map where you can click on each state and review their test results.
In the results are listed contaminants found above health guidelines and above legal limits.
- 93 linked to an increased risk of cancer. More than 40,000 water systems had detections of known or likely carcinogens exceeding established federal or state health guidelines – levels that pose minimal but real health risks, but are not legally enforceable.
- 78 associated with brain and nervous system damage.
- 63 connected to developmental harm to children or fetuses.
- 45 linked to hormone disruption.
- 38 that may cause fertility problems.
- Chromium-6, made notorious by the film “Erin Brockovich.” This carcinogen, for which there are no federal regulations, was detected in the drinking water supplies serving 250 million Americans in all 50 states.
- 1,4-Dioxane, an unregulated compound that contaminates tap water supplies for 8.5 million people in 27 states at levels above those the EPA considers to pose a minimal cancer risk.
- Nitrate, chemical from animal waste or agricultural fertilizers, was detected in more than 1,800 water systems in 2015, serving 7 million people in 48 states above the level that research by the National Cancer Institute shows increases the risk of cancer – a level just half of the federal government’s legal limit for nitrate in drinking water.
“Legal is not safe,” argued Nneka Leiba, director of Healthy Living Science at the EWG. “In many cases, it’s far from safe.”
Overall, the organization found more than 250 million Americans are drinking water with “unsafe” levels of various contaminants.
Last year, the EWG found that two-thirds of Americans’ water is contaminated with the carcinogen that Erin Brockovich exposed – chemical chromium 6 or hexavalent chromium – affecting the tap water of more than 218 million Americans. That’s an additional 32 million Americans that are affected by other chemicals highlighted in this new study.
A 2008 study by the National Toxicology Program found that chromium-6 in drinking water caused cancer in rats and mice that were exposed to the chemical.
EWG is urging consumers to use a drinking water filter to reduce the level of chemical intake in the human body. They’re also pressing the EPA (Environmental Protection Agency) to update their rules on chemical contaminants found in drinking water that “can pose what scientists say are serious health risks – and still be legal.”
“Just because your tap water gets a passing grade from the government doesn’t always mean it’s safe,” Cook added. “It’s time to stop basing environmental regulations on political or economic compromises, and instead listen to what scientists say about the long-term effects of toxic chemicals and empower Americans to protect themselves from pollutants even as they demand the protective action they deserve from government.”
It’s been 20 years since the EPA last passed any new drinking water regulations. Regardless, it’s clear that municipalities have not been following them.
If you’re in the U.S. you can check your own water supply by visiting the Tap Water Database, which allows anyone in the U.S. to enter their zip code or local utility’s name and find out what’s lurking in their local water supply.