Federal law requires water utilities to send virtually every American they supply an annual report on contaminants in their drinking water (EPA 2006c). These reports, however, provide only a partial picture. They provide only average levels of most contaminants, not a full reporting of all test results, and they contain no information on unregulated chemicals for which testing is not specifically required by EPA or states. In nearly every case, the utilities are able to tell customers that the water meets or exceeds every standard in federal law, a laudable accomplishment considering the quality of the untreated water in many cases. But because of significant gaps in the standard-setting process, water that “meets federal standards” isn’t necessarily perfectly safe to drink.
EPA bases its standards not only on health considerations, but on cost; the agency is required to prove that the cost of removing a contaminant does not exceed the benefits. Because of this provision, EPA has set legal limits for 40 percent of regulated contaminants at levels higher than its own recommended health-based limits.
EPA is allowed to set maximum legal limits for contaminants as if people are exposed to just one contaminant at a time. That’s not the reality — research shows that people carry hundreds of chemicals in their bodies at any given time. A growing number of studies also show that the risks add up when people are exposed to multiple chemicals that act in tandem to harm an organ or system in the body — and the total risk can be greater than the sum of the parts. Some chemicals amplify the risks of others when both are present.
EPA is not required to set maximum legal limits for contaminants at levels that protect the health of children or to consider specifically the heightened vulnerability of the fetus and newborns to toxic chemicals. Compiling national tap water information and providing full access to the public should be a requirement for the EPA. More than a decade ago, the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996 included such a requirement, but it still has not done so. As we have discovered over the last decade or so it does not pay to depend on Federal Regulators to protect us. With large corporate interest taking over many of our water systems the primary interest will be profit not the safety of the water. Do we really want to leave our own and our families health in the hands of XYZ Corporation and the EPA. We should all take the time to have our water analyzed for contaminates and take action to insure any harmful substances are removed from the water before it enters our home. Whole house water filters are relatively inexpensive and can be tailored for individual needs.