Story at a glance
- A new report sampled drinking water from across the United States and found lead, arsenic and other potentially toxic “forever chemicals.”
- Environmental pollution and climate change disproportionately harms Black, Indigenous and other communities of color.
- The EPA recently announced it would start collecting more information to address PFAS and other contaminants in drinking water.
More than a third of water samples taken from across the United States had potentially toxic “forever chemicals” at levels above the maximum recommended by experts, according to a new study by Consumer Reports (CR) and the Guardian released Wednesday.
Potential toxic forever chemicals (PFAS) are human-made chemicals, including PFOA and PFOS (hence the name), that don’t break down easily — if at all — and accumulate over time in both the environment and the body. Currently, the government doesn’t have an enforceable legal limit to the amount of PFAS in drinking water, but the report used recommendations established by CR scientists and other health experts.
“Americans shouldn’t have to navigate bureaucracy and be forced to make significant investments in order to access clean tap water,” said Brian Ronholm, CR’s director of food policy, in the report.
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An expert at the American Chemistry Council, however, noted that only two samples were above the EPA’s health advisory and none were above the maximum allowable concentrations set by Canada’s national health agency.
All but two of the 120 samples, which came from water systems that service more than 19 million people in total, had detectable levels of lead and about 8 percent had arsenic at levels above CR’s recommended maximum, according to the report, but below the maximum contaminant level of arsenic set by the Environmental Protection Agency.
Currently, 93 percent of the population supplied by community water systems gets water that meets “all health-based standards all of the time,” an Environmental Protection Agency spokesperson told the Guardian.
Like other forms of environmental pollution, contaminated drinking water disproportionately harms Black, Indigenous and other communities of color. Data from the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) between 2010 and 2016 shows that drinking water systems that constantly violate the law are 40 percent more likely to serve people of color — and take longer to become compliant. And a recent survey found that these communities are less confident in the quality and safety of their tap water than white Americans.
Last month, the EPA announced it would collect new data and reissue regulatory determinations under the Safe Water Drinking Act.
“All people need access to clean and safe drinking water. One way that EPA is committed to keeping our communities safe is by addressing PFAS,” said EPA Acting Assistant Administrator for Water Radhika Fox in a statement. “These actions will underpin better science, better future regulation, and improved public health protections.”
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