23 Counties in Violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act

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The ever-aging water infrastructure in the United States has become an increasing cause for concern, and environmental factors and pollution have done nothing to help drinking water quality. Since 1974 with the passing of the Safe Drinking Water Act, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has found that 23 counties in the United States are in egregious violation, citing more than 15,000 instances of harmful levels of chemicals in municipal water supplies all over the country. While some contaminants are naturally occurring, an increase in industrial activity within the recent decade has seen a disturbingly large increase in chemicals and other harmful particulates seeping into surrounding ecosystems and groundwater.

Between September 30th, 1980 to July 3rd, 2017, the EPA found that out of the 23 counties in violation, Dona Ana County in New Mexico had the lowest amount of contamination violations. With 52 violations in total, the most recent issued in November of 2008, the EPA found unsafe levels of uranium in the county’s drinking water supply. While uranium naturally exists in the environment, levels have increased to harmful amounts, most likely due to the NASA White Sands Test Facility where missile tests have historically been performed.

Unfortunately, the 52 violations that the EPA gave Dona Ana County pales in comparison to the 231 recorded violations found in Cumberland County, North Carolina. With a water system that serves nearly 16,000 residents, Cumberland County has the highest amount of violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act, with the most recent violation having been issued in May of 2009. Much like uranium, radium is a naturally occurring element. However, increased exposure to the element’s radioactivity has been linked to increased risk of anemia and bone cancer.

Other contaminants that the EPA has found in the American public water system include trihalomethanes (TTHM) and haloacetic acids, which are byproducts of chemicals which are commonly used to disinfect water for drinking purposes. Unfortunately, recent studies have found a link between TTHM and haloacetic acids and an increased risk of cancers, as well as certain birth defects when ingested in high concentrations or over-exposure. In addition to these substances, the EPA has also cited other contaminants such as fecal coliform, which is known to cause gastrointestinal illnesses, fever, and other flu-like symptoms.

While many counties have taken measures to increase drinking water quality, further analysis for the data collected by the EPA shows that those counties with the highest amount of violations also happen to be the most economically poor. With few financial resources, it is understandably difficult to make the necessary changes to reverse these violations. Without external funding from the state or the federal government, such violations may continue to plague counties all over the United States.

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