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Water Poisoning Alerts Hidden from Public

Each year, red flags over toxic drinking water are raised across the U.S., with reasons varying from location to location. One major problem is aging water pipes, which have become an increasingly common source of toxic exposure.1

In a 2013 report,2 the American Society for Civil Engineers warned that most of the drinking water infrastructure across the nation is "nearing the end of its useful life," yet little has been done to address our crumbling infrastructure in the years since.

Making matters worse, recent media coverage make it clear that many toxic water incidences are covered up and hidden from the public, which at times has had lethal consequences.

In short, if you're counting on your local water utility to warn you about problems with your water supply, you could be placing your health at risk. Your best bet is to be proactive and make sure you filter your drinking water to the best of your ability, no matter where you live.

EPA Gets Failing Grade for Water Alerts

In a September 25, 2019, report,3,4 the Office of Inspector General (OIG) — which is part of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency yet independent as it receives separate funding — criticizes the EPA and water utilities around the country for their failure to provide consistent and accurate reporting of drinking water risks. The OIG's investigation identified several problems that could place public health at risk from contaminated water supplies, including the following:5

Some primacy agencies (agencies with the primary responsibility for enforcing water regulations) are not consistently fulfilling their responsibility to enforce public notice requirements. Specifically, violations are not consistently reported and tracked, and public notices are not consistently issued.

The EPA's oversight protocols do not cover all public notice requirements and as a result, some primacy agencies do not know whether the public water systems under their supervision are properly notifying consumers when safety violations occur.

All public water systems are not held to the identical compliance standards by the EPA and primacy agencies.

Primacy agencies use inconsistent methods to record violations and identify problems with public notice in the national drinking water database. Because the EPA's information about public water systems' compliance with public notice requirements is incomplete, the agency cannot properly monitor compliance.

The EPA's public notice guidance given to primacy agencies and public water systems is out of date and does not fully reflect current regulations.

Public water systems lack accurate guidance about current tools available to provide public notices and may therefore "miss opportunities to efficiently inform consumers about drinking water problems."

According to the OIG report:6

"We made nine recommendations, including that the EPA require primacy agencies to comply with oversight requirements related to public notice and to follow data reporting requirements.

We also recommended that the agency update public notice guidance, define the acceptable methods and conditions under which notices can be delivered electronically, and improve public notice violation information in the national drinking water database.

The EPA provided acceptable corrective actions and estimated completion dates for six recommendations. Three recommendations are unresolved, with resolution efforts in progress, because the action official for these recommendations, the Deputy Administrator, did not respond to our draft report."

The three recommendations that remain unresolved include:7

  1. Requiring EPA regional administrators to comply with public notice requirements.
  2. Requiring regional administrators to verify that primacy agencies within each region fully implement oversight of public notice responsibilities.
  3. Directing each region to require primacy agencies to adhere to requirements for accurate quarterly entry of public notice violation data into the Safe Drinking Water Information System.​​

Lead-Tainted Water Becoming Nationwide Concern

The fact that public warnings about water safety violations are not being consistently issued is a grave concern, seeing how prevalent water contamination around the U.S. has become.

A September 11, 2019, article8 in The Atlantic addresses the growing problem of lead-contaminated water. Aside from the well-publicized lead controversies in Flint, Michigan, and Newark, New Jersey, U.S. cities known to have exceeded EPA action limits for lead include Portland, Oregon; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Providence, Rhode Island; Passaic, New Jersey and Tualatin Valley, Oregon.

In Newark, after lead levels were found to exceed federal limits three times in a row in 2018, the city issued water filters to some of its residents. Many others have been advised to drink bottled water ever since. However, evidence suggests the problem goes back far longer than 2018. As reported by The Atlantic:9

"A sample of Newark children under the age of 6 tested in 2016 found that about a quarter had measurable levels of lead in their blood. The following year, more than 22 percent of drinking-water samples tested in the city were found to have levels of lead exceeding the federal standard."

Fortunately, Newark is now in the process of replacing all lead service lines. The same cannot be said for many other areas, though.

According to a Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report10 issued in 2018, EPA data showed nearly 30 million Americans drank water that violated the EPA's lead and copper thresholds between January 2015 and March 2018. Of those, an estimated 5.5 million were drinking water with lead levels exceeding the EPA's action level for lead, set at 15 parts per billion (15 ppb).

Pre-order Ronnie's New Book, Coming February 11

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