Farming & Tap Water

Farm pollution contaminates tap water across the U.S., with millions of Americans getting their water from sources laden with pesticides and chemicals from fertilizers and animal manure.

Runoff from rain and irrigation on farms carries contaminants to gullies, streams, lakes and rivers and seeps into groundwater that utilities rely on for water, as well as into private household wells. And this is perfectly legal, because farmers are largely exempt from the Clean Water Act.

Contaminants include the chemicals nitrate and phosphorus, found in commercial fertilizer and manure. Nitrate in drinking water is linked to cancer, birth defects and other human health issues, and phosphorus causes toxic algae blooms like the one that in 2014 caused the city of Toledo, Ohio,  issue a do-not-drink order to its 500,000 residents for three days. In addition to these chemicals, manure can carry pathogens like E. coli and antibiotic-resistant bacteria.  

Pesticides like atrazine, a chemical known to disrupt hormones and harm the developing fetus, contaminate tap water at dangerous levels in several states. According to EWG’s Tap Water Database, which aggregates testing data from utilities nationwide, between 2015 and 2017, atrazine was found in water systems serving 44 million people in 35 states.

Rural areas, which are most affected by farm pollution, are often served by small utilities and private wells. Because utilities rely on ratepayers for revenue, small utilities have the fewest resources to address contamination from farm pollution. Private wells are typically tested only when they are dug, if at all – and their owners are on the hook financially to clean up any contamination.

Treating water is expensive. What’s more, treatment to remove pathogens creates disinfection byproducts called TTHMs, themselves toxic for humans. It is far cheaper to keep these and other contaminants out of drinking water than to treat it after the fact.

To help consumers understand the issue of farm pollution of drinking water and advocate for change, EWG tracks and analyzes contamination of tap water, the creation of federal and state agricultural and public health policy, the growth of factory farms and algae outbreaks, farmers’ adoption of conservation practices, and other aspects of this complex issue.

Monday, October 7, 2019

EWG has found 508 news reports about algae blooms in the country’s lakes, ponds and rivers so far this year – 18 percent more than the 429 we found in the same period last year.

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AgMag
Article
Thursday, September 12, 2019

Today the Trump administration will finalize its plan to repeal critical safeguards that prohibit the dumping of industrial and agricultural pollution into sensitive waterways that provide tap water for more than 117 million Americans.

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News Release
Thursday, September 5, 2019

As Hurricane Dorian bears down on North Carolina, the storm’s flood waters threaten once again to spread millions of tons of animal waste from factory farms throughout the state’s eastern coastal plain.

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News Release
Thursday, August 29, 2019

A record-breaking number of potentially toxic algae blooms have plagued bodies of water across the country this summer. According to our map, which tracks news stories of algae blooms, as of August 27, 354 algae outbreaks have occurred in 41 states. That’s 65 more bloom stories than the 289 that had occurred by this time last year.

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AgMag
Article
Thursday, August 15, 2019

Last week, Melissa Martin and Denise Mintz took their dogs – Abby, Harpo and Lizzy – for a swim in a pond near their home in Wilmington, N.C. Within hours, the dogs grew sick and died, apparent victims of poisoning from toxic algae blooms.

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News and Analysis
Article
Thursday, August 15, 2019

Outbreaks of potentially toxic algae are fouling lakes, rivers and other bodies of water across the U.S. Nationally, news reports on algae outbreaks have been on the rise since 2010.

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Children's Health
Article
Thursday, August 8, 2019

Microcystins are poisonous toxins that can form in blooms of blue-green algae. In recent years, algae blooms – actually microscopic bacteria called cyanobacteria – have erupted in hundreds of lakes nationwide, putting at risk Americans whose drinking water comes from those lakes, or who swim, ski or fish in them. If ingested, microcystins can cause adverse health effects in people and animals, ranging from skin rashes to serious illness and even death.

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Reports & Consumer Guides
Thursday, August 8, 2019

In 2011, Sen. Jim Inhofe, R-Okla., fell “deathly sick” from a severe upper respiratory illness after swimming in a lake infected with toxic algae. Inhofe, a notorious science-denying patron of corporate polluters, laughed it off as “the environment strikes back.”

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AgMag
Article
Thursday, August 8, 2019

Federal and state tests have found dangerous toxins, common in outbreaks of blue-green algae, in hundreds of lakes, rivers and other bodies of water nationwide – yet authorities are doing little to notify and protect Americans, according to a new analysis and map from the Environmental Working Group.

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News Release
Tuesday, July 2, 2019

Over the Fourth of July holiday, many of us love to beat the heat in a favorite lake, pond or river. But this year, vacationers from coast to coast will have to look out for a potentially record-breaking number of algae blooms.

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AgMag
Article
Monday, June 24, 2019

Drinking water contaminated with nitrate could be responsible for more than 12,500 cases of cancer each year, according to a peer-reviewed study by Environmental Working Group presented today at a conference of leading cancer and environmental health experts.

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News Release
Wednesday, June 19, 2019

A new EWG study published in Environmental Research found that nitrate, one of the most common contaminants of drinking water, may cause up to 12,594 cases of cancer per year, but that’s not its only danger: It can pose unique health risks to children. The good news is that there are steps you can take to keep your family safe.

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Children's Health
Article
Friday, June 7, 2019

The city of Toledo, Ohio, is spending an astounding $54 million on a new treatment facility to remove contaminants, including toxins produced by algae blooms, from its drinking water.

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AgMag
Article
Thursday, June 6, 2019

With peak toxic algae bloom season underway, the Environmental Working Group is releasing an updated map of all algae outbreaks reported in the U.S. since 2010. In coming months, the map will be updated weekly, providing comprehensive tracking of this growing nationwide hazard.

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News Release
Thursday, June 6, 2019

In recent months, all 50 states have enacted so-called right-to-farm laws that seek to block citizens from holding industrial animal factory farms and other large-scale agriculture operations accountable for pollution, according to the National Agricutural Law Center.

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Testimonies & Official Correspondence
Thursday, June 6, 2019

Toxic algae blooms are a growing epidemic, polluting lakes and other waterways across the U.S., as a 2018 EWG report revealed. They can occur any time, but they thrive when water is warmer, usually from May through October.   

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News and Analysis
Article
Wednesday, May 29, 2019

Nitrate pollution of U.S. drinking water may cause up to 12,594 cases of cancer a year, according to a new peer-reviewed study by the Environmental Working Group.

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News Release
Tuesday, May 28, 2019

Nitrate pollution of U.S. drinking water may be responsible for up to 12,594 cases of cancer a year, at a cost of up to $1.5 billion for health care, according to a new peer-reviewed study by the Environmental Working Group

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Reports & Consumer Guides
Monday, May 20, 2019

As farmers struggle with a plummeting farm economy in the wake of President Trump’s trade war, the administration is rushing to send a second round of cash payments – reportedly totaling $15 billion to $20 billion – to farmers across the nation.

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AgMag
Article
Friday, May 17, 2019

In the summer, millions of lush green acres of corn and soybeans blanket the Midwest. Come fall, many harvesters scrape crop fields until they are black and barren, exposing large swaths of vulnerable land to heavy rains, melting snow and powerful winds. Until the following year’s planting, soils laden with toxic farm chemicals are left to wash downstream, where they may contaminate sources of drinking water

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Reports & Consumer Guides

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