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Drinking Water In America Is A National Problem

The EWG finds our drinking water meets federal regulations but exceeds levels deemed safe by modern scientists. 

America has a drinking water problem. Flint, Michigan may be the most famous case of polluted tap water, but it’s far from being the only city in the U.S. with contaminated water. Thanks to an extensive analysis of our nation’s drinking water by the Environmental Working Group (EWG), we know between 2010 and 2015, nearly 19,000 public water systems had at least one detection of high lead levels. But lead isn’t the only contaminant in our water.

Now you can know what’s exactly in your drinking water.

The EWG just released their Tap Water Database, the result of two years of data collection. They looked at results of drinking water tests reported to the EPA and state agencies conducted during the years 2010 and 2015. Over 48,000 water utilities and all 50 states and D.C. were included. In addition to the lead results, the EWG found:

“more than 40,000 water systems had detections of known or likely carcinogens exceeding established federal or state health guidelines – levels that pose minimal but real health risks, but are not legally enforceable.”

Outdated drinking water standards?

The EWG doesn’t regulate our water though, the EPA does, and the EWG findings don’t require government action. The difference between the EPA and the EWG are their water standards. The EWG concedes that most of our nation’s water meets EPA standards and is in compliance with federal and state regulations. However, the EWG argues the EPA water standards are outdated. According to the EWG, the EPA hasn’t added any chemicals to their list of regulated contaminants in 20 years. Thus, over half of the contaminants the EWG detected are completely unregulated by the EPA. As an example, the EWG says PFCs – highly fluorinated toxic chemicals, also known as PFASs, have been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, weakened immunity and other health problems but are completely unregulated by the EPA. In a separate study the EWG mapped PFC pollution in drinking water for 15 million Americans.

The EWG also uses stricter standards for the chemicals that are regulated. The EWG claims the EPA’s standards are “often the result of political and economic compromise, or based on outdated studies.” The EWG’s claims their standards are instead based on what modern scientists’ say are acceptable levels in our water.

What’s in our drinking water?

In addition to lead and PFC’s the utility reports the EWG analyzed for their database tested for a total of 500 different contaminants, 267 were found. The EWG reported contaminants detected in the nation’s tap water included:

  • 93 linked to an increased risk of cancer. More than 40,000 water systems had detections of known or likely carcinogens exceeding established federal or state health guidelines – levels that pose minimal but real health risks, but are not legally enforceable.
  • 78 associated with brain and nervous system damage.
  • 63 connected to developmental harm to children or fetuses.
  • 45 linked to hormone disruption.
  • 38 that may cause fertility problems.

One of the contaminants found in all 50 states and in the drinking water of 250 million Americans is chromium-6. Chromium-6 is the chemical made famous by Erin Brockovich and the film based on her battle with Pacific Gas & Electric. It’s a carcinogenic which is unregulated by the EPA. Brockovich mounted a successful case against PG & E over their dumping of waste water contaminated with chromium-6 into a nearby ponds.

Check your water with the Tap Water Database.

You can search the EWG’s database by zip code or state. Their database lets you know if any contaminants are found at unsafe levels in your water. It also gives you the contamination level and provides information about the contaminant itself. From there you can get information on how to remove the contaminants from your drinking water.


This is the first in a series of articles reporting on the state of drinking water in our country. We’ll look at specific cities and the water pollution challenges they face. If you are dealing with unsafe drinking water in your hometown send us an email so we can report on it! 



Lauren von Bernuth

Lauren is one of the co-founders of Citizen Truth. She graduated with a degree in Political Economy from Tulane University. She spent the following years backpacking around the world and starting a green business in the health and wellness industry. She found her way back to politics and discovered a passion for journalism dedicated to finding the truth.

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