Consumer Reports Say: "Don't Drink that Water"

Our Daily Planet

Having a glass of clean, safe water should be as easy as turning on the tap. But that's not what a co-investigation by Consumer Reports and The Guardian of nationwide tap water found. More than a third of the water they sampled had "concerning" levels of Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), a class of lab-created chemicals that persist in the environment and human bodies for so long they are known as "forever chemicals." In addition to PFAS, every water sample had measurable levels of arsenic, and almost every sample contained lead. Brian Ronholm, director of food policy for Consumer Reports said, "We need stronger federal standards so that everyone can have confidence that their drinking water is safe and free of dangerous contaminants."

Why This Matters

Most Americans don't even know what PFAS are, but they could be really negatively impacting their health. Exposure to PFAS, even in small amounts, has been linked to cancer, prenatal development, and thyroid disease. There are NO federally enforceable limits for PFAS. NONE. Some states have passed legislation regulating the chemicals, but even these limits are too lax -- above the 1 part per trillion that scientists recommend. And even though the EPA acknowledges that lead exposure is unsafe at any level, it doesn't require utilities to replace pipes. This is yet again, another reason why President Biden's Build Back Better infrastructure plan is so necessary.

What's in Whose Water?

Curious about the possible contaminants in your own tap water? Check out this interactive tool from the report, which helps you navigate testing and treating the water supply in your city. Like many other environmental issues, water quality breaks down along lines of race, income, and geography. Latinos face the most exposure to water contamination, and poorer and more rural counties break EPA standards more often than their wealthier, more urban counterparts.

NRDCflix: Access to Safe Water is a Human Right, December 9, 2020.

New EPA Administrator Has Background in Water Quality

Michael Regan, who was recently confirmed EPA Administrator, fought for funding to deal with PFAS contamination and water quality issues in his former role leading North Carolina's Department of Environmental Quality. This experience could come in handy for making good on President Biden's environmental justice campaign trail pledge that, instead of making empty promises with no follow-through, Biden will tackle PFAS pollution by designating them as hazardous substances and "setting enforceable limits for PFAS in the Safe Drinking Water Act, prioritizing substitutes through procurement, and accelerating toxicity studies and research on PFAS."

America Plans for Clean Water

President Biden's plan invests $111 billion to 1) replace 100% of the nation's lead pipes and service lines; and 2) to upgrade and modernize America's water (drinking, waste, and storm) systems, tackle new contaminants, and support clean water infrastructure across rural America.

To eliminate all lead pipes and service lines in the country, Biden is calling on Congress to invest $45 billion in the EPA's Drinking Water State Revolving Fund and in Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act (WIIN) grants. In addition to reducing lead exposure in homes, this investment also will reduce lead exposure in 400,000 schools and childcare facilities.

Aging water systems threaten public health in thousands of communities nationwide. The plan calls for modernizing these systems by scaling up existing, successful programs, including by providing $56 billion in grants and low-cost flexible loans to states, Tribes, territories, and disadvantaged communities across the country. The plan also provides $10 billion in funding to monitor and remediate PFAS in drinking water and to invest in rural small water systems and household well and wastewater systems, including drainage fields.


Copyright © 2021 Our Daily Planet. Reprinted here with permission. This version may have been edited from the original article published on April 1, 2021.