Public Data Show Chemicals in Tap Water
Associated Press, John Heilprin
Published December 20, 2005
Drinking water may have a lot more in it than just H20 and fluoride, according to an environmental group's analysis of records in 42 states.
A survey by the Environmental Working Group released on Tuesday found 141 unregulated chemicals and an additional 119 for which the Environmental Protection Agency has set health-based limits. Most common among the chemicals found were disinfection byproducts, nitrates, chloroform, barium, arsenic and copper.
The research-and-advocacy organization compiled findings from the states that agreed to provide data they collected from 1998 to 2003. That data comes from nearly 40,000 water utilities, serving 231 million people. The utilities were required by federal law to report that data to consumers.
For the unregulated chemicals, EPA is still identifying and considering the potential risks for possible future regulations. Nineteen of those chemicals exceeded EPA's unenforced safety guidelines for tap water systems serving at least 10,000 people, according to the advocacy group.
The EPA gathers its own water monitoring data, reviews the latest research and looks at treatment methods and technology, an agency spokeswoman said. States also are free to set their own safety standards for contaminants that may not be detected in other states.
Benjamin Grumbles, who heads EPA's Office of Water, said that "for the chemicals the agency regulates, nearly 100 percent of the community water systems that provide drinking water to the majority of Americans are meeting clean drinking water standards. We also have a process to continuously identify new contaminants for which regulation could reduce risks."
Jane Houlihan, EWG's vice president for research, said the group's findings show that the United States allows millions of people to be exposed to some chemicals for which EPA either has never considered the risks or if it has, has no enforceable limits.
"So in many communities the water that comes out of the tap could be contaminated with scores of chemicals. People shouldn't be alarmed, but they should be concerned. Our system of public health protections isn't working in this case," Houlihan said.
The top 10 states, listed in order of the most contaminants in their drinking water, were: California, Wisconsin, Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, Texas, New York, Nevada, Pennsylvania and Illinois, according to EWG, which listed the biggest sources as agriculture, industry and urban and sprawl developments.
Tom Curtis, a deputy director of the Denver-based American Water Works Association, echoed Grumbles' comments. "That's good news, and it's a reflection of water professionals' ongoing commitment to protecting public health," he said.
Curtis said the EPA has "a systematic approach to determining which substances should be regulated. Those regulations take into account occurrence data and health effects research, and should reflect the best available science."
He also said that "water suppliers support strong regulations that protect public health, and they also support proactive research that identifies and examines new substances found in source waters."
Last week, in setting two new rules to protect public drinking water, EPA Administrator Stephen Johnson called clean drinking water "a key ingredient to keeping people healthy and our economy strong." One rule aims to prevent disease-causing microorganisms from entering public water supplies, while the other is intended to limit the amount of potentially harmful disinfection byproducts.
This article ran in the following 169 outlets:
Torrance Daily Breeze, San Jose Mercury News, San Diego Union Tribune, Los Angeles Times, San Francisco Chronicle, Sacramento Bee, San Luis Obispo Tribune, Monterey County Herald, Contra Costa Times
Wilmington News Journal
District of Columbia:
Washington Post and Washington Post Express
Columbus Ledger-Enquirer, Macon Telegraph
Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, Fort Wayne News Sentinel
Mankato Daily Press, Duluth News Tribune, St. Paul Pioneer Press
Biloxi Sun Herald
Kansas City Star
Press of Atlantic City
Santa Fe New Mexican
Raleigh News & Observer, Winston-Salem Journal, Lexington Dispatch, Conservative Voice, Charlotte Observer
Herald Daily News
Akron Beacon Journal
Enid News & Eagle
Centre Daily Times, Beaver County Times, Standard-Speaker, York Dispatch, Wilkes Barre Times-Leader
The State, Myrtle Beach Sun News
Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Houston Chronicle, Denton Record Chronicle
Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Vancouver Columbian
Madison Capital Times, Janesville Gazette
Australia Mercury, China Daily
MSNBC, FOX News, ABC News, CBS News, CTV (Canada)
NBC 13 Birmingham/Tuscaloosa/Anniston
CBS 5 Phoenix, NBC 4 Tucson
ABC 8 Jonesboro
CBS 2 Southern California, CBS 13 Sacramento, NBC 11 San Jose/Oakland/San Francisco, CBS 8 San Diego, NBC 8 Monterey/Salinas/Santa Cruz, NBC 4 Los Angeles, NBC 7 San Diego, ABC 3 Palm Springs
NBC 30 Hartford
CBS 4 Denver
District of Columbia:
ABC 7 D.C.
NBC 10 Tampa Bay, NBC 2 Orlando, ABC 25 West Palm Beach, CBS 6 Orlando, NBC 6 South Florida, ABC 10 South Florida
NBC 11 Atlanta, ABC 2 Atlanta, NBC 10 South Georgia, NBC 4 Jacksonville, FOX 54 Columbus
NBC 6 Pocatello/Idaho Falls/Blackfoot
ABC 7 Chicago, CBS 2 Chicago, NBC 14 Evansville, NBC 5 Chicago, CBS 4 Quad Cities
CBS 15 Fort Wayne
NBC 13 Des Moines, NBC 7 Quad Cities, ABC 5 Ames/West Des Moines,
CBS 10 Lafayette
CBS 27 Lexington
ABC 8 Portland
CBS 13 Baltimore, UPN 21 Delmarva
CBS 4 Boston
NBC 6 Upper Michigan
CBS 4 Twin Cities
NBC 3 Jackson
NBC 5 St. Louis, ABC 3 Kirksville, UPN 12 Cape Girardeau
FOX 11 Reno, CBS 8 Las Vegas
FOX 23 Albany, NBC 4 New York, NBC 3 Central New York
ABC 9 Charlotte, NBC 17 Raleigh/Durham/Chapel Hill
NBC 2 Dayton, NBC 3 Cleveland, ABC 7 Dayton, CBS 10 Central Ohio
CBS 3 Philadelphia, ABC 6 Philadelphia, ABC 6 Johnstown/Altoona, NBC 10 Philadelphia, NBC 11 Pittsburgh
NBC 10 Providence, FOX 12 Providence
NBC 10 Columbia
CBS 3 Memphis
ABC 9 East Texas, CBS 11 Dallas/Fort Worth, ABC 8 Dallas/Fort Worth, ABC 13 Houston, ABC Austin, CBS 11 Houston, NBC 5 Dallas/Forth Worth, FOX 14 El Paso/Las Cruces, NBC 6 Corpus Christi, ABC 12 San Antonio, ABC 7 Tyler/Longview/Jacksonville, ABC 4 Rio Grande Valley, NBC 6 Corpus Christi, NBC 36 Austin, CBS 10 Waco
NBC 5 Champlain
ABC 8 Petersburg/Richmond, NBC 10 Norfolk
NBC 9 Wheeling
UPN 14 Madison, ABC 2 Green Bay, CBS 5 Green Bay
WTOP AM/FM, D.C.
Forbes, CIO Today (Calif.), Salon.com, NewsFactor.com, NewsOK.com (Okla.), SierraTimes.com, LiveScience.com, OMB Watch, KansasCityChannel.com, Kansas.com, OregonLive.com, MLive.com (Mich.), HawaiiChannel.com, MilwaukeeChannel.com, IndyChannel.com (Ind.), JacksonChannel.com (Miss.), HometownChannel.com (Ark.), DenverChannel.com, NewMexicoChannel.com, PittsburghChannel.com, PhillyBurbs.com, SiliconValley.com, Kentucky.com.