This past May, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a New York-based environmental advocacy group found that United States residents have a 1 in 4 chance of drinking unsafe water that has not been properly monitored for contaminants in accordance with federal law. That’s close to 77 million Americans who ought to be concerned about water contamination.
The problem is not only that contaminants, like lead, nitrates, arsenic and other pollutants are in the water, it’s that there is a major lack of reporting on contaminants in local tap water. This means that US residents are extremely uninformed about their drinking water and cannot be sure if their water is
contaminated or not.
Unfortunately, this is not a new issue facing the country. Mae Wu, a senior attorney with the council’s health program, says that this new study “is an attempt to tell the big-picture story, as a backdrop to the piecemeal reports coming out of towns and cities across the country.” The one story that got the most media attention was about the water contamination in Flint, Michigan, but just a quick Google search will also reveal other towns across the country that are facing water contamination issues.
The NRDC’s findings should be a major wakeup call for American citizens across the country. According to the report, there were around 80,000 (reported) violations of drinking water safety regulations in 2015. Of those, more than 12,000 were health-based violations or cases that involved actual water contamination problems. That equates to 80,000 towns, with tens of thousands of residents, drinking contaminated water and nothing is being done about it. The report went on to
further state, “The repercussions for violations were virtually nonexistent. Nearly 9 in 10 violations were subject to no formal action.” One of the major hurdles in fixing this broken system is that you can’t see it.
“For drinking water infrastructure, like the pipes and the mains, it’s out of sight, out of mind — until the main breaks outside your house, and you can’t drink your own water,” according to Ms. Wu. “Part of the difficulty in fixing these problems comes down to a complicated regulatory system, in which the responsibility to monitor adherence to federal laws falls largely to states.”
The top states with the most water safety violations based on population were Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey. That hits close to home.
The current administration has stated that they are in favor of a water infrastructure investment, but Scott Pruitt, the new E.P.A. administrator, has cut the E.P.A. budget by 31%. The NRDC has stated that this cut is “a new threat to the nation’s water supplies.”. But the EPA says that “under the new leadership, the E.P.A. has made clear it is getting back to its core mission, which includes protecting America’s drinking water. Unfortunately, this is an area in which the past administration failed. Administrator Pruitt is committed to helping modernize our country’s outdated water infrastructure in order to ensure we maintain safe drinking water for the more than 300 million people that depend on it daily.”
Mr. Edwards says that the EPA statement is “not entirely off the mark… the water problem is partly a result of ‘ misplaced priorities’. I think the E.P.A. has taken their eye off the ball when it comes to clean water and air, and they were focused on other things,” he said, citing climate change as an example. “Water safety regulation and infrastructure maintenance are basic needs that have been neglected by officials — and poor Americans are suffering the most,” he said. “I am hopeful that this is something we can have bipartisan agreement on. This is un-American, what’s happening.”
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