Daily News Archive
From January 9, 2006                                                                                                        

Unregulated Pollutants Contaminate U.S. Tap Water
(Beyond Pesticides, January 9, 2006)
260 contaminants, 141 of which lack safety standards,are present in the tap water of 42 states in the US, according to a report released on Dec. 20 by the Environmental Working Group (EWG). The report, "A National Assessment of Tap Water Quality,” analyzes more than 22 million tap water quality tests (most were required under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act) acquired from nearly 40,000 water utilities, serving 231 million people across the country.

Of the 260 contaminants found in water, 114 were controlled under the maximum contaminant levels (enforceable health limits) set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). Five were non-enforceable. The remaining 141 chemicals without any regulation contaminate tap water served to 195 million people in 42 states. Nineteen of those chemicals exceeded the EPA's unenforced safety guidelines for tap-water systems serving at least 10,000 people, according to EWG.

EWG found the EPA failed to enforce testing that would reveal the pollutants in tap water supplies and to set health-based limits for those found in tap water. The EPA missed three mandatory Safety Drinking Water Act deadlines to set standards for unregulated contaminants.

"Our analysis clearly demonstrates the need greater for protection of the nation's tap water supplies, and for increased health protections from a number of pollutants that are commonly found but currently unregulated." said Jane Houlihan, Vice President for Science at EWG. "Utilities routinely go beyond what is required to protect consumers from these contaminants, but they need more money for testing, and for protection of vital source waters."

"The Agency's own scientists have identified 600 chemicals in tap water formed as by-products of disinfection; tracked some 220 million pounds of 650 industrial chemicals discharged to rivers and streams each year; and spearheaded research on emerging contaminants after the U.S. Geological Survey found 82 unregulated pharmaceuticals and personal care product chemicals in rivers and streams across the country that provide drinking water for millions of Americans," EWG states.

"All told, EPA has set safety standards for fewer than 20 percent of the many hundreds of chemicals that it has identified in tap water."

Among the 141 unregulated contaminants, 52 are associated with cancer, 41 with reproductive toxicity, 36 with abnormal development and 16 with damaging immune system. In spite of the potential health risks, presence of these chemicals in tap water is legal, no matter how high their concentration.

The chemicals found include the gasoline additive MTBE, the rocket fuel component perchlorate, a variety of industrial solvents, and a number of pesticides (both agricultural and home/garden pesticides).

The states that are most heavily contaminated are California, Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, New York, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Ohio.

TAKE ACTION: Find out which chemicals contaminant the water in your state using EWG’s National Tap Water Testing database, which is available at www.ewg.org/sites/tapwater/. Also, look out for the upcoming Winter 2005-2006 issue of Pesticides and You, which will include an article about pesticides in water.