EWG: Most ‘Safe’ U.S. Tap Water Contaminated, Anything But Risk-Free

Your tap water might look crystal-clear, but there are a lot more contaminants floating around in there than you realize. An analysis of 28 million water records from nearly 500,000 American water utilities collected by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) reveals most Americans’ tap water contains contaminants at levels acceptable to the government, but may actually pose health risks to the people. [1]

The government doesn’t bother to impose requirements on hundreds of contaminants. Instead, health guidelines are issued by states and the federal government, but these are mere suggestions and goals. Amazingly, the guidelines are not enforceable by law. However, there is zero tolerance for the presence of any cancer-causing contaminant.

I went to the database and put in every zip code I’ve ever lived in – you can test your water here – and each one tested positive for higher-than-acceptable levels of at least 3 carcinogens, including chloroform. Yummy. The EWG found that tens of thousands of water utilities contain levels of cancer-causing contaminants. What’s more, every single zip code the group looked at turned up some form of contamination.

A senior analyst at EWG, Sonya Lunder said:

“We’re attempting to fill a huge gap here. I have not yet found any that have zero contaminants.” [2]

EWG President Ken Cook said on the group’s website:

“Americans deserve the fullest picture possible of what’s in their tap water. But they won’t get that information from the government or, in many cases, from their utilities. The only place they’ll find that is EWG’s drinking water report.”

Cook noted that even if the contaminants in a water system fall below federal guidelines, that doesn’t mean the water is safe. This is because it has been 20 years since the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) added a new contaminant to its list of regulated contaminants.

Since more than half of the contaminants found in U.S. tap water had no regulatory limit at all, the substances can be legally present even in high concentrations, and utilities must neither test for them nor inform residents about their presence.

Cook stated:

“Just because your tap water gets a passing grade from the government doesn’t always mean it’s safe. It’s time to stop basing environmental regulations on political or economic compromises, and instead listen to what scientists say about the long-term effects of toxic chemicals and empower Americans to protect themselves from pollutants even as they demand the protective action they deserve from government.”

Nneka Leiba, EWG’s Healthy Living Science Director, added:

“One of the challenges for us was to first, get across the message that ‘legal’ isn’t safe.

The legal limits that are set for drinking water often include political and economic compromises. They’re not purely based on health limits, so that’s part of the education process.” [3]

Example of contamination.

Findings from the Analysis

According to the EWG, contaminants detected in the country’s tap water included:

  • 93 linked to an increased risk of cancer. The presence of known or likely carcinogens exceeding established federal or state health guidelines were found in more than 4,000 water systems. The contaminants pose minimal but important health risks, but levels found in tap water are not legally enforceable.
  • 78 associated with brain and nervous system damage.
  • 64 linked to developmental problems in children or fetuses.
  • 45 tied to hormone disruption.
  • 38 that potentially cause fertility problems. [2]
Example of contamination.

Other concerning contaminants discovered by the analysis:

  • Chromium-6, a carcinogen with no federal regulations, was found in the drinking water supplies serving 250 million Americans in all 50 states. If the contaminant sounds familiar, it’s likely because it was made notorious by the film “Erin Brockovich.”
  • 1,4-Dioxane, an unregulated compound detected in tap water that supplies 8.5 million people in 27 states at levels above those the EPA considers to pose a minimal cancer risk.
  • Nitrate was detected in more than 1,800 water systems in 2015, serving 7 million people in 48 states above the level that research by the National Cancer Institute shows increases the risk of cancer – a level just half of the federal government’s legal limit for nitrate in drinking water. Nitrate is common in rural communities, where the chemical comes from animal waste and agricultural fertilizers.

If you want to know what contaminants are in your tap water, the EWG published the database online. Input your zip code and find out why everyone should have a water filtration system.


[1] Quartz

[2] Environmental Working Group

[3] Gizmodo

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15 Million Americans may be Drinking Water Contaminated with PFCs

More than 15 million Americans across 27 states may have drinking water contaminated with perfluorochemicals (PFCs) that are used to make non-stick cookware and other products, according to a report published in June 2017. [1]

PFCs have been linked to cancer, thyroid disease, and weakened immune systems. What’s more, prenatal exposure to the chemicals has been linked to low birthweight and future obesity. Even small amounts in drinking water are considered a public health threat.

Research by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) and Northeastern University in Boston reveals that drinking water has been polluted with perfluorochemicals from more than 4 dozen industrial and military sources from Maine to California. [2]

In a press release, managing editor of the EWG Bill Walker said:

“It’s remarkable that the richest country on earth can’t guarantee its citizens that their drinking water is completely safe and has no long-term health implications.” [1]

Although the CDC has found perfluorocarbons in the bodies of virtually all Americans and knows that mothers can pass the chemicals to their babies through the umbilical cord, there are currently no federal health regulations for the chemicals in drinking water. [2]

The last time a drinking water contaminant was added to the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Act was 25 years ago. [1]

Two types of PFCs, called PFOA and PFOS, have waterproof and non-stick properties, making them used in the production of cookware, outdoor clothing, food packaging, and firefighting foam. DuPont formerly used the chemicals to make its Teflon non-stick cookware, and PFCs were formerly an ingredient in 3M’s Scotchgard.

Perfluorochemicals were phased out in the U.S. after it was revealed that both companies spent decades covering up the health risks of the substances. [2]

U.S. chemical manufacturers replaced PFOA and PFOS with a different type of PFC that is molecularly different. However, it was not adequately tested for safety before going on the market. The few studies that do exist indicate they’re not much safer than older PFCs.

EWG and the Social Science Environmental Health Research Institute at Northeaster collaborated to create an interactive map that, EWG says, “combines federal drinking water data and information on all publicly documented cases of PFAS pollution from manufacturing plants, military air bases, civilian airports and fire training sites.”


[1] Time

[2] Environmental Working Group

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Officials Investigate Toxins in Water Under Tennessee Power Plant

State officials and the Tennessee Valley Authority (TVA) have announced the discovery of high levels of arsenic and lead in groundwater beneath the Allen Fossil Plant, located in southwest Memphis. Officials found the toxins in wells where pollution from ponds containing leftover coal ash is monitored. The Allen Fossil Plant, you see, is powered by coal.

In one well, arsenic levels were found to be more than 300 times the federal drinking-water standard. The 50-foot-deep monitoring wells are about a half-mile from considerably deeper wells drilled by the TVA directly into the Memphis Sand aquifer. The TVA has a plan in place to dump 3.5 million gallons of water out of the aquifer per day in 2018 to cool a natural gas power plant that will replace the aging Allen plant.

Tennessee Department of Environment and Conservation spokesman Eric Ward says he is “confident the contaminants found in TVA wells at the Allen Fossil Plant are not impacting drinking water” because of a layer of clay that separates the groundwater from the aquifer.

Despite Ward’s assurances, the department asked the city’s water utility, Memphis Light, Gas & Water (MLGW), to test drinking water. It further instructed the TVA, which has had problems handling coal ash in the past, to pinpoint where the toxins originated.

A TVA spokesman says the company doesn’t know where the arsenic and lead are coming from.

Mayor Mark Luttrell expressed alarm and anger over the high levels of toxins, saying:

“The levels of arsenic in the water samples are not acceptable to our community.”

The Sierra Club is calling for additional water testing and believes TVA should immediately contract MLGW to cool their new plant with municipal water.

Handling coal ash ponds is not the TVA’s biggest strength, to say the least. Environmental groups have sued the company over allegations that its coal ash ponds from its coal-fired power plant in Gallatin, Tennessee, are seeping pollution into the Cumberland River, violating the Clean Water Act.

Environmental groups want the waste at the Gallatin Fossil Plant to be dug up and transplanted elsewhere. TVA, however, maintains that it’s both cheaper and safer for the waste to stay put.

Fox 13 in Memphis took 2 samples of groundwater from an area of the city called Boxtown and had them tested in mid-July 2017. [2]

Michael Kauffman, the chemist who oversaw the tests, said:

“All we can tell you is there’s no arsenic that we were able to find. Beyond that, MLGW or someone else would have to provide you information with how good the drinking water is.”

MLGW is testing its wells, and the results should become available soon.


[1] The Associated Press

[2] Fox 13 Memphis

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Waters at Risk? EPA Will Revoke the Clean Waters Act of 1972

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), under the direction of the Trump administration, will revoke a rule that gives the agency broad authority over regulating the pollution of tributaries and wetlands that flow into the country’s largest rivers. [1]

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt told Congress on June 27, 2017, that the agency would “provide clarity” by “withdrawing” the rule, and follow standards set in 2008. Pruitt had previously said he would recuse himself from working on litigation to the rule.

Said Pruitt:

“We are taking significant action to return power to the states and provide regulatory certainty to our nation’s farmers and businesses.”

During his testimony, Pruitt told senators that the Obama-era rule:

“… created a situation where farmers and ranchers, landowners across the country did not know whether their stream or dry creek bed, in some instances, was actually subject … to EPA jurisdiction and EPA authority.”

He added that:

“… they were facing fines that were substantial as they engaged in earth work to build subdivisions – I mean, it was something that created a substantial amount of uncertainty and confusion.” [2]

The Clean Waters Act was last updated in 2015 to define waterways – including streams, rivers, and other bodies – the federal government can regulate, thus expanding protection for 2 million miles of streams and 20 acres of wetlands, and drawing the ire of the agriculture and energy industries.

Read: Uh-Oh: House Passes Bill Nicknamed “Poison Our Waters Act”

That year, the rule was delayed by a federal appeals court, after 13 states filed a lawsuit against the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers. It remains on hold while the case works its way through the courts.

In February 2017, President Trump said during the signing of an executive order calling for a review of the Clean Waters Act that it should apply only to navigable waters that impact interstate commerce. The decision would put at risk the drinking water sources of 1 in 3 Americans. [2] [3]


Environmental groups say rolling back the rule will put the Midwestern Great Lakes region at risk, and lead to pollution in some of the nation’s most sensitive wetland areas.

Howard Learner, executive director of the Environmental Law & Policy Center, said:

“This foolish rollback of clean water standards rejects years of work building stakeholder input and scientific data support, and it imperils the progress for safe clean drinking water in the Midwest.” [2]

Read: Trump Freezes EPA Grants, Orders Media Blackout

Kierán Suckling, executive director at the Center for Biological Diversity, added:

“Revoking the clean water rule will open the door to the pollution and bulldozing of some of America’s most important wetlands.”

So far, the Trump administration has received an astounding 500,000 comments, including numerous requests to preserve the existing regulation.

Following the public comment period, and after reaching a final decision, the EPA will have to author its own proposed rule for designing which waters should be federally protected under the 1972 law.

Environmental and conservation groups have vowed to fight the repeal.

Michael Brune, executive director of Sierra Club, said in a statement:

“It goes without saying that the Trump administration doesn’t care about the environment, public health, or its duty to protect our most precious natural resources?—?and that is why it’s up to us, the American people, to hold them accountable. We will fight this and every other attempt by polluters and the Trump administration to destroy our water resources.” [3]


[1] The Washington Post

[2] Reuters

[3] Think Progress

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