Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Group posts data on local water systems, says rural areas at more risk from unregulated substances

The Environmental Working Group has created a Tap Water Database to provide easy access to information about local drinking-water systems. The non-profit, non-partisan organization says it compiled 28 million records from nearly 50,000 utilities nationwide from 2010 to 2015, and catalogued 267 contaminants. Users can type in their ZIP code and see what utilities serve the area, the utilities' water suppliers, what contaminants have been found in the local water and why they're dangerous, and when and how EWG gathered the data for that area.

Utilities were given the opportunity to review the data for accuracy, but we recommend that local journalists doing stories based on the data check it with local sources.

EWG also published a report based on the data called State of American Drinking Water. The report says that the vast majority of the nation's drinking water has industrial or agricultural contaminants at levels that are low enough to pass muster under the Safe Drinking Water Act or state regulations, but high enough to post health risks—especially in rural areas. "Pesticides and toxic byproducts from fertilizer and manure are found by water utilities in many areas of the country, but are often detected in greater numbers and at higher readings by utilities serving rural communities in places where agriculture has a significant footprint."

The report says the Environmental Protection Agency hasn't added any new contaminants to the list of drinking-water pollutants in more than 20 years, so there are no legal limits for 160 contaminants that have been detected in tap water. Of the 267 contaminants detected, 93 are linked to an increased risk of cancer, 78 are associated with brain and nervous system damage, 63 are connected to developmental harm in children or fetuses, 38 may cause fertility problems, and 45 are linked to hormone disruption, EWG says. Almost 19,000 public water systems had detectable levels of lead, which can cause brain damage in children at any amount, EWG says.

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