What’s In the Water?

<a href="http://www.flickr.com/photos/shaylor/48767596/sizes/m/in/photostream/">Shaylor</a>/Flickr

We like to believe that most tap water is safe to drink and that our state and federal regulators are on the job when it comes to ensuring that’s the case. But a new report from the General Accountability Office suggests that a lack of data from the states is causing problems for the Environmental Protection Agency’s efforts to monitor the quality of drinking water. The GAO found that states failed to report 26 percent of violations of water quality health rules and 84 percent of violations of water quality monitoring rules.

At the behest of Democrats on the House Energy and Commerce Committee, the government watchdogs at the GAO examined the records of 14 states from 2009, looking for violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the 1974 law aimed at protecting public health. The report dinged “inadequate training, staffing, and guidance, and inadequate funding to conduct those activities” for the lapses. The report also included this frightening example of why water quality monitoring is important:

For example, according to a 2006 study, an estimated 4.3 million to 11.7 million annual cases of acute gastrointestinal illnesses in the United States are attributable to drinking water from community drinking water systems supplied by surface-water and ground-water sources.

It’s also worth noting that the budget compromise passed in April included a $700 million cut to the safe drinking water program at EPA. Yum!


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  • Kate Sheppard was a staff reporter in Mother Jones' Washington bureau from 2009 to 2013. She is now a senior reporter and the energy and environment editor at The Huffington Post. She can be reached by email at kate (dot) sheppard (at) huffingtonpost (dot) com and you can follow her on Twitter @kate_sheppard.