Not Just Flint: Unsafe Lead Levels Found in Tap Water Across the US

Poison water, contaminated with lead, is turning up in cities across this nation.  Unsafe levels have been found in the tap water of Greenville and Durham, North Carolina, in Jackson, Mississippi and Columbia, South Carolina.  Many of these places have taken months, even years, to warn their citizens about the hazard.

Federal officials and many scientists agree that most of the nation’s 53,000 community water systems provide safe drinking water. But such episodes are unsettling reminders of what experts say are holes in the safety net of rules and procedures intended to keep water not just lead-free, but free of all poisons.

The Environmental Protection Agency says streams tapped by water utilities serving a third of the population are not yet covered by clean-water laws that limit levels of toxic pollutants. Even purified water often travels to homes through pipes that are in stunning disrepair, potentially open to disease and pollutants.

Thirty years ago, Congress banned lead pipes, as many as 10 million older pipes still remain.  These are hazards waiting to happen.

“We have a lot of threats to the water supply,” said Dr. Jeffrey K. Griffiths, a professor of public health at Tufts University and a former chairman of the E.P.A.’s Drinking Water Committee. “And we have lots of really good professionals in the water industry who see themselves as protecting the public good. But it doesn’t take much for our aging infrastructure or an unprofessional actor to allow that protection to fall apart.”

Lead is not the only danger in drinking water.  Other contaminates are less regulated and left to be evaluated.  The E.P.A.’s trigger level for led in drinking water is 15 parts per billion and it this is not even based on an health threat.  It indicates that the calculations that water in at least 90% of homes are susceptible to lead contamination and that it will be lower than the standard.

And while political leaders upbraid the E.P.A. and state regulators for laggard responses to crises in Flint and elsewhere, they have themselves lagged in offering support. Adjusted for inflation, the $100 million annual budget of the E.P.A.’s drinking water office has fallen 15 percent since 2006, and the office has lost more than a tenth of its staff.

States are equally hard hit. In 2013, the Association of State Drinking Water Administrators said federal officials had slashed drinking-water grants, 17 states had cut drinking-water budgets by more than a fifth, and 27 had cut spending on full-time employees. “The cumulative effect of the resource gap has serious implications for states’ ability to protect public health,” the group stated.

We cannot trust the local governments to be forthright about what is our water.

What’s in your water?

Source: The New York Times



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