Story at a glance

  • A nonprofit advocacy group is urging the federal government to do more to regulate water standards and infrastructure across the country.
  • Toxic chemicals like lead have the potential to cause serious health risks.
  • Even the Government Accountability Office found that the Environmental Protection Agency could be doing more to regulate water supply effectively in the U.S.

Environmental Working Group (EWG), a nonprofit advocacy group, is urging the federal government to do more about toxic chemicals found in many faucets across the country.

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EWG argues in a new report that there are unsafe levels of lead and per-and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAs), long-lasting chemicals that break down very slowly over time, in the U.S. water supply. EWG describes turning on a faucet like, “pouring a cocktail of chemicals.”

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) says PFAs can be found in water, air, fish and soil across the world. They are present in a myriad of products from fire extinguisher foam, food packaging, certain cleaning products and personal care products. One of the main ways people are exposed to PFAs is through drinking water that’s been contaminated with them.

EWG developed a Tap Water Database and collected annual water test reports from 2014 to 2019 produced by almost 50,000 water utilities in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. It found that as of August 2021, there are 2,854 locations in all 50 states and two territories known to have a contaminated water supply. 

The group cites the lead water crisis in Flint, Mich. and widespread radium pollution in Brady, Texas as examples of the dangers of not addressing contaminated water supplies.

The federal government argues there isn’t enough research to understand the effects PFAs may have on humans. However, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services have found various studies that suggest PFAs may lead to increased cholesterol levels, decreased vaccine response in children, increased risk of high blood pressure or preeclampsia in pregnant women and an increased risk for kidney or testicular cancer.


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EWG’s report argues there has been a lack of funding to replace lead pipelines across the U.S. and that the federal government’s water safety standards aren’t keeping pace with the latest science on water contaminants, saying “some regulations haven’t been updated in more than 50 years, and the Environmental Protection Agency is not moving fast enough on new drinking water rules.”

Though Congress enacted the Safe Drinking Water Act back in 1974, reauthorized in 1996, which authorized the EPA, “to set national standards for drinking water to protect against health effects from exposure to naturally-occurring and man-made contaminants.” The agency sets legal limits on over 90 contaminants in drinking water.

However, it’s not only EWG calling for more action. Even the Government Accountability Office (GAO) found that the EPA and states had identified almost 70,000 water bodies across the country that did not meet water quality standards. 

GAO said that despite the EPA setting limits on around 90 water contaminants, the agency could be doing a better job of collecting data on unregulated contaminants to determine whether or not more contaminants need to be federally regulated.

EWG scientists developed their own drinking water standards in an effort to urge the federal government to act. The proposal outlines how and why the federal government needs to update it’s water contaminants list, update water infrastructure across the country and work with local state governments and utilities to ensure safe drinking water for all Americans.

However, in October EPA administrator Michael S. Regan announced that his agency would be evaluating how PFAs can be better regulated. The agency put out a plan, PFAs Strategic Roadmap, that vows to research, restrict and remediate PFAs in the U.S. by 2024.


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Published on Nov 09, 2021