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.

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
Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Des Moines Water Works has struggled for years to provide safe drinking water to its customers, battling nitrate contamination from upstream farms. But contamination from agricultural practices may be even worse for the estimated 230,000 to 290,000 Iowans whose drinking water comes from private wells, an investigation by Environmental Working Group and Iowa Environmental Council finds.

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Reports & Consumer Guides
Wednesday, April 24, 2019

Private wells across Iowa are contaminated with unsafe levels of two agricultural contaminants, according to an investigation by the Environmental Working Group and the Iowa Environmental Council.

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News Release
Wednesday, April 24, 2019

The major role that rural voters played in recent elections has amped up the focus on farm country from politicians and candidates on both sides of the aisle. In the runup to 2020, presidential hopefuls are once again flocking to Iowa, home of the crucial first-in-the-nation caucuses.

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AgMag
Article
Monday, April 15, 2019

The latest federal Census of Agriculture shows that more farms are adopting conservation practices that can help keep drinking water clean and slow climate change, but it also shows that much more ambitious action will be needed to actually address those challenges.

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AgMag
Article
Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Across America, outbreaks of toxic algae, triggered by polluted farm runoff, are increasing in frequency and severity, fouling drinking water with dangerous toxins. In 2014, an algae outbreak in Lake Erie contaminated the tap water for 500,000 people in and around Toledo, Ohio, rendering it unsafe to drink for three days. 

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AgMag
Article
Tuesday, April 9, 2019

Unregulated animal factory farms are funneling nutrient-rich pollution into Lake Erie, feeding an enormous toxic algae bloom each summer, according to a new investigation by the Environmental Working Group and the Environmental Law & Policy Center.

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News Release
Monday, April 8, 2019

The Maumee River, overloaded with fertilizer and manure, is the single largest source of the phosphorus that triggers blooms of toxic algae in Lake Erie. Over half of the manure in the Maumee River watershed comes from an exploding number of unregulated factory farms, a new EWG and Environmental Law & Policy Center investigation reveals.

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Reports & Consumer Guides
Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Outbreaks of toxic algae in U.S. waterways usually happen in warmer months. But in a sign that the problem is growing worse, algae blooms were reported in December in Michigan and Washington state, with another reported in Florida during the first days of spring.

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News and Analysis
Article
Wednesday, February 13, 2019

North Carolina, a state known for the devastating environmental and public health impacts of industrial-scale hog production, now has more than twice as many poultry factory farms as swine operations, according to a new investigation from the Environmental Working Group and Waterkeeper Alliance.

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News Release
Friday, February 1, 2019

Since 2005, Environmental Working Group’s Tap Water Database has been the authoritative source for consumers, journalists and researchers who want to know about contaminants in the nation’s drinking water.

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News Release
Thursday, December 13, 2018

Court documents obtained by the Environmental Working Group detail shockingly lax oversight by state inspectors of North Carolina’s animal factory farms.

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News Release
Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Farm pollution poses a serious threat to drinking water supplies, and too much federal conservation spending has been squandered. Fortunately, the 2018 Farm Bill includes important reforms that will make clean drinking water a priority.

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AgMag
Article
Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Scott Faber, senior vice president of government affairs for the Environmental Working Group, issued the following statement today following final passage of the farm bill by Congress. 

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AgMag
Article
Tuesday, December 11, 2018

Today the Trump administration will release its long-awaited plan to repeal critical safeguards that prohibit the dumping of pollution into sensitive waterways which provide tap water for more than 117 million Americans, according to a report by the New York Times.

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News Release
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The heavy rains and high waters after Hurricane Florence flooded 35 industrial poultry operations in North Carolina housing an estimated 1.8 million birds, according to a new investigation by Waterkeeper Alliance and the Environmental Working Group.

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News Release
Wednesday, November 28, 2018

The heavy rains and high waters after Hurricane Florence flooded 35 industrial poultry operations in North Carolina housing an estimated 1.8 million birds, according to a new investigation by Waterkeeper Alliance and the Environmental Working Group. The state estimates it spent $11 million disposing of dead poultry following the hurricane.

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News and Analysis
Article
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Seasonal spikes of atrazine, a weed killer that disrupts hormones and harms the developing fetus, contaminate the drinking water of millions of Americans at potentially hazardous levels as run-off from corn-growing areas finds its way into source waters and reservoirs.

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Reports & Consumer Guides
Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Seasonal spikes of atrazine – a weed killer that can disrupt hormones and harm developing fetuses – contaminate drinking water in corn-growing areas of the Midwest and beyond, according to an analysis of federal records by the Environmental Working Group.

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News Release
Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Hurricane Michael is rapidly advancing toward Florida, raising concerns that the storm could worsen and spread the red tide that is plaguing a 145-mile stretch of the state’s Gulf Coast. Although scientists speculate what impact Michael will have on the red tide, there is no question that this year will go down as one of the worst for outbreaks of potentially toxic algae in the Sunshine State.

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AgMag
Article

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