The Weakening of the Safe Water Drinking Act
In The Drink: Rhode Island
In 1993 and 1994, more than 53 million Americans drank water that did not meet Safe Drinking Water Act standards. In The Drink is the first analysis of EPA's Safe Drinking Water Act compliance database to document these violations of tap water health standards on a community-by-community basis.
Widespread failure to comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act is a symptom of increasing problems with drinking water quality in the United States. Drinking water plants are old and out of date, and water supplies are increasingly at risk from chemical and biological contamination. Rhode Island is not immune from these problems; many cities and towns -- both large and small -- experienced violations or exceedances of EPA standards in the last year. These included violations of Maximum Contaminant Levels, (EPA's enforceable standards for chemical and biological contaminants), exceedances of the Lead Action Level, and violations of the Surface Water Treatment Rule (which requires water systems to adequately filter and disinfect water to prevent disease outbreaks).
The compliance data, which is supplied to EPA by state authorities, indicate that Zambarano Memorial Hospital (Pascoag), North Kingstown, and Hemlock Estates (Gloucester) were the three water systems with the most violations or exceedances of drinking water standards in 1993 and 1994. Among large water systems (those serving more than 10,000 people) in Rhode Island, North Kingstown, Woonsocket, and Bristol County Water Authority had the most reported violations or exceedances of drinking water standards in 1993 and 1994, according to EPA data.
The most common contaminant of state water supplies was Coliform. Rhode Island utilities such as Bristol County Water Authority (Warren) and Wakefield Water Company were affected by exceedances of the Lead Action Level, meaning that health threatening levels of lead were present in the water in many homes. Residents served by the United States Navy-Newport water system drank water that contained chemicals or radioactivity above health-based standards, and water systems like Woonsocket and Bristol County Water Authority (Warren) were affected by violations of microbial contaminant standards such as Total Coliform.
As this report goes to press, Congress is poised to weaken the baseline public health protections provided by the Act. These changes would weaken standard-setting provisions, curtail water safety monitoring, diminish the public's right to know about drinking water problems, and reduce protections for small and medium sized communities. Ironically, much of this effort to roll back standards is being driven by a massive lobbying effort by the nation's water utilities. As In The Drink documents, it's time to strengthen, not weaken, the law that ensures that America's drinking water remains safe.