Some 18 million Americans have been drinking contaminated water according to a new report by the National Resource Defense Council (NRDC). The advocacy group analyzed EPA data from 2015 to find that more than 5,300 water systems across the nation were in violation of the agency’s Lead and Copper Rule.
The rule requires water suppliers to test drinking water sources and notify the public if the there is any contamination. It exists to protect Americans from its aging infrastructure, which a multitude of health risks including lead poisoning. These violations consisted of failures to properly test the water for lead, failures to report contamination to state officials or the public, and failures to treat the water appropriately to reduce the corrosion in pipes. The EPA took action in just over 10% of the over 9,000 violations that were reported in 2015. Of the total violations, only 3% sought penalties or assessed damages.
The report also cites older studies that highlight improper practices commonly used to artificially lower the lead levels. These include, sampling in neighborhoods with predicted low levels, sampling at low flow rates, and pre-flushing pipes to prevent proper lead levels from being recorded.
According to the Mayo Clinic, even small amounts of lead can cause serious health problems. Lead is especially toxic to children, who are more susceptible to the poisoning. Lead poisoning can decrease a child’s cognitive capacity, cause behavior problems, and limit the ability to concentrate. In adults symptoms include, high blood pressure, joint and muscle pain, and memory loss among others.
This news comes less than a year after the water crisis in Flint, Michigan made national news as lead contamination began showing up after the city’s emergency manager decided to switch water sources. One of the most surprising findings was that Flint doesn’t even show up as having violations for lead in the EPA database.
The full report is free to read online at the National Resource Defense Council’s website.