America has a looming water health crisis and no one seems interested in talking about it.
Over the last year many Americans have likely heard of the lead poisoning affecting the drinking water of Flint, Michigan. We have heard the horror stories of children being sickened due to the failure of Flint’s bureaucracies and failing infrastructure. However, a new report from the Natural Resources Defense Council reveals that Americans in every state are suffering because of failing infrastructure, under-reporting of violations, and lax enforcement of drinking water standards. The NRDC is an environmental advocacy group based in New York City.
The report, “Threats on Tap: Widespread Violations Highlight Need for Investment in Water Infrastructure and Protections,” found close to 80,000 violations of drinking water standards in every state in the U.S. “Very small systems found in rural or sparsely populated areas account for more than half of all health-based violations, and nearly 70 percent of all violations,” the NRDC writes.
The report concludes that nearly one in four Americans receive their drinking water from systems which fail to meet federal health standards. This failure is exacerbated by a lack of reporting these violations, as well as a lack of enforcement when violations are reported. The council’s report indicates that water contamination is not exclusive to Flint, but rather, Flint is representative of a national water crisis.
“America is facing a nationwide drinking water crisis that goes well beyond lead contamination,” said Erik Olson, Health Program Director at NRDC and a report co-author. “The problem is two-fold: there’s no cop on the beat enforcing our drinking water laws, and we’re living on borrowed time with our ancient, deteriorating water infrastructure. We take it for granted that when we turn on our kitchen tap, the water will be safe and healthy, but we have a long way to go before that is reality across our country.”
Of all the states with health-based violations, Texas comes in at number one, followed by Puerto Rico, Ohio, Maryland, and Kentucky. The authors believe the problem will only get worse under the Trump administration amid calls for cutting the budget of the EPA.
The council analyzed data from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. This data found some 27 million people are using water-distribution systems which are responsible for around 12,000 health-based violations. These violations involve amounts of contaminants in the water supply well above federal health and safety standards. The contaminants include lead, nitrates, and pesticides.
The NRDC report comes on the heels of a multi-part investigation published by USA Today in March of this year. The investigation found almost 2,000 water systems in all 50 states with excessive levels of lead contamination. “The water systems, which reported lead levels exceeding Environmental Protection Agency [EPA] standards, collectively supply water to 6 million people,” according to reporters Alison Young and Mark Nichols.
The full impact of these reports can be understood when compared to a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association. The study, “Association of Childhood Blood Lead Levels With Cognitive Function and Socioeconomic Status at Age 38 Years and With IQ Change and Socioeconomic Mobility Between Childhood and Adulthood,” concluded that children with elevated levels of lead in their blood at age 11 were likely to grow into adults with lower cognitive function and lower-status jobs than their parents. The researchers followed around 1,000 children born in Dunedin, New Zealand in the early 1970s. The children who tested positive for lead in 1983 were more likely to have lower IQs and lower socioeconomic status three decades later. The researchers accounted for the children’s IQs, their mothers’ IQs and their social-economic background and still found the negative associations.
Despite these studies and a fairly obvious crisis at hand, the average American seems to be completely ignorant to the issue. A quick search regarding the NRDC shows only one article from The New York Times. Why is there an absence of reporting on an issue so vital which obviously affects all Americans? Mae Wu, a senior attorney with the council’s health program, told the Times the data is “not sexy,” making it difficult to motivate lawmakers to fund new infrastructure and improve drinking water standards.
Whether the data is sexy or not, this is one issue that should be on the forefront of every single person’s mind. Without clean water we die. Water literally is life. Let’s do our work to spread this information and call for improved drinking water.