5,300 U.S. water systems are in violation of lead rules
(CNN)Eighteen million Americans live in communities where the water systems are in violation of the law. Moreover, the federal agency in charge of making sure those systems are safe not only knows the issues exist, but it’s done very little to stop them, according to a new report and information provided to CNN by multiple sources and water experts.
“Imagine a cop sitting, watching people run stop signs, and speed at 90 miles per hour in small communities and still doing absolutely nothing about it — knowing the people who are violating the law. And doing nothing. That’s unfortunately what we have now,” said Erik Olson, health program director at Natural Resources Defense Council, which analyzed the EPA’s data for its report.
In this case, the “cop” is a combination of the states and the EPA. States are the first line of enforcement, but when they fail — as they did recently in Flint, Michigan — the EPA is supposed to step in. But in many cases, the agency hasn’t.
Figure 1: 17.6 million people served by community water systems with reported violations of the lead and copper rule (2015)
More than 5,300 water systems in America are in violation of the EPA’s lead and copper rule, a federal regulation in place to safeguard America’s drinking water from its aging infrastructure.
Violations include failure to properly test water for lead, failure to report contamination to residents, and failure to treat water properly to avoid lead contamination. Yet, states took action in 817 cases; the EPA took action in just 88 cases, according to NRDC’s report.
What’s worse, the report reveals that the EPA is also aware that many utilities “game the system,” using flawed or questionable testing methods in order to avoid detecting high levels of lead.
That means there could be many more communities violating the laws, exposing residents to dangerous levels of lead. And the public has no idea.
Figure 2: populations served by community water systems with reported health-based violations of the lead and copper rule (2015)
Even Flint, a city with the most notorious case of lead in water discovered, is still not listed as having violated the EPA’s lead and copper rule.
In response to the report, the EPA said it works closely with states “who are responsible for and do take the majority of the drinking water enforcement actions and are the first line of oversight of drinking water systems.”
The agency added that, “it’s important to note that many of the drinking water systems that NRDC cites in its analysis are already working to resolve past violations and return to compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act in consultation with state regulators or EPA.”
Figure 3: community water systems with action level exceedances (ales)
Images from CNN