Many Americans ingesting ‘cocktail’ of toxic chemicals from drinking water, study says

A new study revealed that cancer-causing, toxic chemicals are unknowingly being consumed by millions of Americans when they ingest tap water. 

The Environmental Working Group released its 2021 "State of American Drinking Water" this month. 

"For too many Americans, turning on their faucets for a glass of water is like pouring a cocktail of chemicals," the group said in its report. "Lead, arsenic, the ‘forever chemicals’ known as PFAS and many other substances are often found in drinking water at potentially unsafe levels, particularly in low-income and underserved communities."

Researchers published their "Tap Water Database" after collecting mandatory test reports from 2014 to 2019 produced by 50,000 water utilities from all 50 states and Washington, D.C. 

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They said their research revealed that when some Americans drink a glass of tap water, they’re also potentially ingesting "a dose of industrial or agricultural contaminants linked to cancer, brain and nervous system damage, fertility problems, hormone disruption and other health harms."

Researchers believe those risks increase in low-income communities with a higher population of Black and Hispanic Americans. 

Insufficient funding to replace lead pipelines could be the reason the problem persists in many areas, according to researchers. They also pointed to antiquated federal water safety standards that haven’t kept up with the latest science on contaminants, citing some water regulations that haven’t been updated in more than 50 years. 

The study’s authors said major federal funding is needed to improve the country’s drinking water, as well as replace lead pipes.

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"There are challenges when it comes to delivering safe drinking water to millions of families who currently don’t have it," researchers continued. "But they can be solved when the public and our elected officials come together around a common purpose: the right of every American, regardless of race, region or income, to have clean water."

The $1 trillion infrastructure plan passed by the House on Friday night and now awaiting President Joe Biden’s signature includes $15 billion to replace lead pipes. Federal regulations over the years have banned the use of lead in plumbing systems, but some pipes and service lines that were built before the rules were enacted have yet to be replaced. The White House said lead pipes continue to serve an estimated 400,000 schools and child care centers and 6 million to 10 million homes.

Researchers pointed to the water crisis in Flint, Michigan as an example of the issue. 

In 2014 and 2015, Flint’s water was pulled from the Flint River, a money-saving decision that was made by state-appointed managers who were running the ailing city. The highly corrosive water wasn’t properly treated before it flowed through aging pipes to roughly 100,000 residents, causing lead to leach from old pipes.

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The disaster in majority-Black Flint has been described as environmental racism. In 2016, a task force appointed by then-Gov. Rick Snyder, a Republican, said his environmental agency misapplied lead-and-copper rules and "caused this crisis to happen."

Flint’s water quality greatly improved after it returned to a regional water supplier and replaced thousands of lead or steel service lines. Nine people, including Snyder, were charged with crimes in January after a new investigation. Their cases are pending.

The Environmental Protection Agency issued a statement in response to the EWG’s recent water quality report. 

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"EPA’s National Primary Drinking Water Regulations assure that public water systems are monitoring and taking actions to achieve meaningful reductions to human health risks from contaminants in accordance with the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)," the agency said in a statement to FOX Television Stations Monday. 

"These drinking water regulations address over 90 contaminants and contaminant groups," the statement continued. "EPA follows the science driven process required law to evaluate unregulated contaminants and to review existing regulations. Following this process, EPA has issued regulations to address a number of contaminants including those designed to reduce risks from disinfection byproducts, arsenic, surface water pathogens such as Cryptosporidium, pathogens in groundwater, and water served onboard airplanes."

The Associated Press contributed to this report. This story was reported from Los Angeles.