Don’t take fresh drinking water for granted even though you live in a developed country. Find out just how safe our drinking water actually is.
America has some of the safest drinking water in the world. Most Americans can turn on the tap and drink whatever comes out, with little to no fear about what they are consuming. But, not all Americans can do this.
The sad fact is that water pollution is a serious problem. There are a million reasons why you might not be able to drink tap water, and the list is growing. More and more issues come to light, and as technology advances, the more we realize how ignorant we have been.
America may have some of the safest drinking water in the world, but is our water at more risk than ever? Just how big a problem is there?
The source of the problem
“We often don’t think about where our water comes from. Does it come from a nearby lake, intermittent streams, isolated wetlands or an aquifer? Yes, you may have a water treatment plant, but if your water source is not protected, people face a real risk,” says Steve Fleischli, director and senior attorney for the NRDC (Natural Resource Defense Council) Water Program in Los Angeles.
Ideally, drinking water is sourced from underground, but this is not always possible and so alternate water sources are used. These include lakes, dams, rivers and streams. But are these sources safe? Water quality reports are telling us that they aren’t.
45% of US streams, 47% of lakes and 32% of bays are extremely polluted by various chemicals and other poisonous elements. More than 2.2 billion pounds of pesticides are used every year, which eventually seeps into ground and surface water. Over 73 different types of pesticide have been found in various water sources. (Source). Groundwater contamination is now a real problem, that is growing with our increased use of fertilizers and pharmaceuticals.
Reports of septic systems failing around the country indicates that raw sewage is leaking into water sources; this is more than alarming because as it is, 1.2 trillion tons of untreated sewage and industrial waste is finding its way into the water.
The water in our taps
In 2009, the EPA reported that threats to our drinking water are increasing and that we shouldn’t take our water for granted. The Environmental Working Group then released a disturbing report in 2010 which stated that more than 35 states showed disturbing levels of Chromium -6 which is a probable human carcinogen.
Recently, a Harvard study proved that more than 6 million Americans were drinking water with unsafe levels of polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl substances, which have been linked to causing hormonal changes, cancer and other health challenges.
The Safe Drinking Act prohibits the use of 91 dangerous chemicals and more than 8,000 chemicals are monitored by the EPA, but the USA uses tens of thousands of chemicals. Many of these unregulated chemicals have been linked to the cause of many different health problems, but some of the regulated chemicals haven’t been reviewed since the 1970’s and new chemicals haven’t been added to that list in 17 years.
The EPA has since enforced stricter regulations on 4 cancer-causing chemicals and has revealed a strategy for moving forward. They are also working along with other agencies to try and expand the Clean Water Act.
However, it has been slow going since the law is 35 years old, and efforts to expand on it have been met with political pitfalls and controversy. While the march of progress crawls at a slow pace, millions of Americans are drinking water with unregulated amounts of chemicals in it.
The treatment process
Looking at the amounts of chemicals in our tap water, we may ask: What is happening in treatment plants? The truth is that the treatment process does kill off a lot of harmful qualities in the water, but there are many ways for contaminants to sneak in.
Water contaminants need to be fought in two areas: when it enters the waterways, and when it enters the treatment plant. The 1972 Clean Water Act is the main way in which our water is cleaned and protected. But sometimes treatment plants are poorly maintained, poorly built or not enough regulated.
Water can be contaminated through storms, spillages and heavily contaminated natural waterways. The dangerous microbes then pass through these poorly maintained treatment facilities and make their way into our drinking water.
The dangers we face
The EPA does a world of good in regulating dangerous chemicals, and without their regulations we would be in an even deeper mess. They categorize pollutants into different groups, namely:
- Microbes—These occur naturally and can wreak havoc in our bodies; the water treatment process destroys many of these elements but outbreaks have managed to happen
- Disinfectants/by-products—Chlorine is the main ingredient used to clean our water; in small quantities this is fine, but larger quantities cause problems to the human body. The treatment process also leaves behind many different byproducts, such as bromate and haloacetic acids, which have been linked to kidney and liver issues as well as the risk of cancer
- Inorganic chemicals—Like microbes, these have been around forever, but humans have helped to concentrate and spread these chemicals. Arsenic, copper, lead, mercury and nitrogen-rich run off from various industries and functions in society and leach into our waterways
- Organic chemicals—There are many synthetic compounds that have been used in recent years that have been difficult to regulate because no one could prove if they’re dangerous or not. Most of the time, they are. So, studies must be launched. Almost every day, a new chemical is discovered that needs to be regulated
- Radiation—This is a silent killer that sneaks its way into water sources without many people even being aware of its presence. Usually it seeps from natural deposits of radium, uranium and other radioactive materials
Does America have clean drinking water? Yes, in fact it has some of the cleanest in the world. Is it more polluted than ever? Yes, and at the current rate, soon it won’t be safe for everyone to drink.
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