The Safety of America's Drinking Water

Glass filled with drinking water


In the James Bond film Quantum of Solace, Daniel Craig fights militants who try to extort the Bolivian government by cutting off access to water.  Using our most precious natural resource to control the populace seems more likely in nations across North Africa, South America, and South Asia, where scarce or poor water quality, poverty, and weak government regulations contribute to disease and destruction.  However, similar factors coupled with climate change can also combine to create a water crisis worldwide.

The United States has one of the safest water supplies in the world, but pollution and cost-cutting issues threaten it.  In Flint, Michigan, over 100,000 residents were exposed to lead that leached from water pipes due to insufficient water treatment, creating a federal emergency in the Rust Belt in 2014.  By 2017, residents were told to continue using bottled or filtered water until all lead pipes are replaced by 2020.  A 10,000-gallon chemical spill into the Elk River in Charleston, West Virginia left 300,000 residents without tap water in 2014.  Additionally, 82,000 tons of toxic coal ash, which contains mercury, lead, thallium, arsenic and other contaminants, spilled into the Dan River, from a pond at a closed power plant.  A similar incident happened in Tennessee in 2000.

Contaminants also get into drinking water through fertilizers, pesticides, manufacturing processes, sewer overflows, malfunctioning wastewater treatment, discarded pharmaceuticals and more.  The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets standards and regulations for the presence and amount of over 90 different contaminants, including E.coli, salmonella, and cryptosporidium,according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).  To some, there’s no such thing as a “safe” level of contaminants.  New Jersey recently became the first state to adopt stringent standards on Perfluorononanoic acid (PFNA), under new NJDEP rules that take effect in 2019.  The chemical is linked to liver and immune system disease.