Many people drink water straight from their tap, assuming it to be safe. Unfortunately, just because it’s clear and tastes normal does not mean it’s pure. Far from it, research conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) revealed hundreds of contaminants coming out of the average U.S. faucet, many at levels above what may cause health risks but below the threshold of legal action.
While the Safe Drinking Water Act was put into place in 1974 to presumably keep Americans’ tap water safe, not one chemical has been added to the list of regulated chemicals in drinking water since 1996. Nneka Leiba, director of EWG’s Healthy Living Science Program, told USA Today:
“The list of regulated chemicals has not kept up with our use of chemicals as a country … "Legal doesn’t necessarily mean safe when it comes to drinking water … What we are concerned about is long-term exposure, eight glasses a day, over a lifetime.”1
Hundreds of Chemicals Are Likely in Your Tap Water
EWG analyzed data from U.S. agencies and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) on drinking water tests conducted from 2010 to 2015. The tests came from nearly 50,000 water utilities in 50 states and tested for 500 different contaminants. In all, 267 were detected, including:2
• 93 linked to an increased risk of cancer
• 78 associated with brain and nervous system damage
• 63 connected to developmental harm to children or fetuses
• 38 that may cause fertility problems
• 45 linked to hormonal disruption
EWG’s analysis revealed many alarming trends, like the fact that nearly 19,000 public water systems detected lead at levels above 3.8 parts per billion, which would put a formula-fed baby at risk of elevated blood lead levels. Other chemicals of concern include chromium-6, an industrial chemical that’s not regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act but is found in drinking water supplies in all 50 states at levels above those that may pose a cancer risk.
The industrial solvent 1,4-dioxane was also widely detected at levels above what the EPA says could pose a cancer risk, as were nitrates, stemming from industrial agriculture, also at levels above that which might pose a cancer risk. According to EWG:3
“The vast majority of the nation's drinking water supplies get a passing grade from federal and state regulatory agencies. However, many of the 250-plus contaminants detected through water sampling and testing are at levels that are perfectly legal under the Safe Drinking Water Act or state regulations, but well above levels authoritative scientific studies have found to pose health risks.
What's more, the Environmental Protection Agency has not added a new contaminant to the list of regulated drinking water pollutants in more than 20 years. This inexcusable failure of the federal government’s responsibility to protect public health means there are no legal limits for the more than 160 unregulated contaminants the tests detected in the nation’s tap water.”
Industrial Farming Fuels Algae Growth That in Turn Taints Drinking Water
There are a number of ways industrial agriculture proves disastrous to drinking water. Among the environmental assaults already being seen include increased nitrate contamination in drinking water, which is the result of fertilizer pollution. Park Rapids, Minnesota, spent $3 million to dig deeper wells due to nitrate contamination.
It's estimated that 10 percent of private drinking wells in the area may have nitrate levels that pose dangers to pregnant women and infants.4 In Iowa, meanwhile, Des Moines' water utility spent $900,000 on nitrate filtering in 2013 and $1.5 million in 2015,5 and even sued three neighboring counties (Sac, Buena Vista and Calhoun counties) over the fertilizer runoff tainting these rivers.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) estimates that removing nitrate from U.S. drinking water costs nearly $5 billion a year,6 which the industrial agriculture industry has been largely shielded from. Phosphorus and nitrogen run-off from industrial farming not only taint drinking water directly but also contribute to the algae growth that depletes oxygen in the marine environment, leading to disastrous dead zones.
In drinking water, increased algae levels require the increased use of disinfectants by water utilities, which in turn increase the formation of toxic disinfection byproducts like trihalomethanes (THMs). THMs are Cancer Group B carcinogens, meaning they've been shown to cause cancer in laboratory animals.