Florida drinking water ranks among nation's worst, study finds

Tammy Harvey
May 4, 2017

Almost 77 million people were served by water systems with at least one violation of the drinking water rules in 2015, according to analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data conducted by the National Resources Defense Council. The offenses ranged from arsenic to nitrate contamination, and included often-serious failures to test or report contamination levels.

"Drinking water systems that serve fewer than five hundred people account for nearly 70 percent of the drinking water violations", Mae Wu, an author on the report, told Popular Science.

Georgia ranks fifth among states with the most drinking water violations.

"The problem we are facing is that this mostly affects rural areas", said Mae Wu, a senior attorney with the council.

Contaminants are not the only reason for drinking water's dismal state in the United States.

Consumable water has become scarcer and scarcer around the globe; only 3% of the world's water is potable, and more than 50% of that is locked in the polar ice caps. NRDC's report shows that even at its current level of funding, the EPA and states are doing an inadequate job of monitoring, testing, and enforcing safe drinking water laws.

"The problem is two-fold:there's no cop on the beat enforcing our drinking water laws, and we're living on borrowed time with our ancient, deteriorating water infrastructure", said Olson.

"We provide grants to drinking water systems and help them hire engineering firms to hep evaluate their systems and how to fix it", Cabrera said. The five water systems with the most health violations were Texas, Puerto Rico, Ohio, Maryland, and Kentucky.

The crisis in Flint began in 2014, when city officials switched to using the Flint River. The NRDC analysis found that 167 Pennsylvania systems serving 691,000 people violated health standards set by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act when data were gathered in 2015. Drinking water received a "D" and ASCE estimated that at least $1 trillion is needed to improve and upgrade these systems. Health-based violations of the rules were most frequently caused by (in order): a cancer-causing family of chemicals called disinfection byproducts; coliform bacteria; the failure to properly treat surface and groundwater to remove risky pathogens; nitrates and nitrites that can cause "blue baby syndrome"; and lead and copper.

The solution put forward by the authors is to invest broadly in water infrastructure, replacing old pipes and building new cutting-edge treatment facilities that ensure healthy water for residents.

The study also found the Environmental Protection Agency did not take enforcement action on roughly nine out of 10 violations nationwide, and NRDC calls on the agency to strengthen its rules.

Given the push from the Trump administration and Republicans in Congress to eliminate regulations and cut non-defense spending, the wish list is unlikely to gain traction.

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