Tap or faucet water across the United States is safe to consume in some places. Complex treatment systems and quality guidelines aim to ensure that municipal water sources function properly. The government invests millions each year so that citizens have access to clean drinking water.
While it’s a priority to keep tap water safe and accessible, situations can arise that put public health in jeopardy. Equipment failure at treatment facilities, broken or degrading water lines, chemical contamination, and other issues can deem tap water unsafe to drink.
According to USA Today, 63 million Americans (one fifth of the population) are exposed to unsafe drinking water.
Most notably, the Flint Water Crisis, where lead and other contaminants made their way into local water supplies and put thousands of people in danger, is one of the most glaring examples of tap water being at the center of a public health crisis.
While issues with tap water persist in the United States, there have historically been efforts to provide clean and safe drinking water to all Americans. The Clean Water Act and the Safe Drinking Water Act both established baseline rules to lessen water pollution and increase regulations for water quality and measurements.
However, there are some shortcomings of these laws & regulations that leave a portion of the American people exposed to contaminated drinking water.
Moreover, continued research shows that a large portion of Americans (if not all) are exposed to “forever chemicals”, also known as PFAS chemicals, which have been found to be hazardous according to the EPA.
Tap water is more than just H2O. There are many different chemicals, minerals and additives that serve individual purposes to keep your tap water safe to drink.
Common substances found in tap water in the United States include:
The Safe Drinking Water Act defines contaminants as any physical, chemical, biological, or radiological substance or matter in water.
The law defines “contaminant” very broadly as being anything other than water molecules, this includes:
While more research and studies are completed every year, it seems as though regulations from governmental agencies on the content of tap water sources are not keeping up to speed.
The Environmental Working Group has found 56 new drinking water contaminants across the US since 2019, adding to a growing list of over 300 known contaminants. Dozens of these contaminants are not yet regulated by the EPA. Many newly identified contaminants are PFAS, also known as ‘forever chemicals’. Other newly identified contaminants include pesticides, water disinfectant byproducts and radioactive materials.
A report from Heylion found that tap water contamination, particularly from arsenic, has been linked to 100,000 cancer cases in the United States.
Contaminants can be more harmful to certain groups of people, especially those with weakened immune systems and chronic illnesses, such as:
Poor water quality and contaminants are linked to numerous infections and illnesses. Contracted largely from bacteria or chemical exposure, these illnesses are serious.
The most prevalent water-related diseases and illnesses include:
Tap water in the United States is generally safe. Most municipalities have little to no contaminants and have up-to-date water infrastructure. Other cities and rural areas especially have unsafe and lacking infrastructure to treat contaminated water.
Unsafe drinking water has a windfall effect on local communities. From impacting the health of people who drink it and contaminating vegetation and soil when used for agriculture, to influencing whether or not people move to or from the area, safe water is one of the most important factors in everyday life.
The argument of whether to live in an urban or suburban city or rural area involves various topics of interest. Water quality often goes unmentioned, but is crucial in how we live our everyday lives.
While infrastructure may be better in urban areas, there are many potential contamination sources and pollutants that affect water quality that are not an issue in rural areas. An increased amount of car traffic results in an increased amount of runoff pollution into water sources.
Rural areas face unique and ever-mounting issues in maintaining safe drinking water. Outdated infrastructure, private wells, runoff from agricultural practices, increased wildlife interaction with water sources, and more contribute to contamination issues across rural America.
The Environmental Working Group (EWG) has maintained a database of contaminants in American tap water sources. Sortable by zip code, the database can be used to find what contaminants are common in an area and subsequently research ways to keep safe.
People all around the country are refusing to drink tap water. Contamination from a number of different sources, inaction from the government, and various instances of unmitigated contamination are eroding trust in tap water. Violations of laws and regulations on contamination are flashpoints in the fight to keep water safe and drinkable.
Cases such as cancer alley in Louisiana, pesticide contamination in South Carolina, and lead contamination in Flint, Michigan and Newark, New Jersey are long standing instances where government inaction has led to debilitating illnesses and financial burdens for residents.
County Health Rankings has a database listing violations by county for each state. Check to see how your area ranks in terms of clean water, what contaminants are common, and how to keep yourself safe.
If you suspect you’ve consumed contaminated tap water, seek medical care and advice as soon as possible. Research common water-borne illnesses and their symptoms, and relate your condition to those resources. Some symptoms reveal themselves hours after exposure, while other symptoms and illnesses can take weeks to develop.
As you find out more about your diagnosis, consider obtaining legal representation. An experienced personal injury lawyer can help you achieve justice and provide detailed advice on how to move forward.
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