Mar 09, 2017

Localized Analysis Reveals City-Level Drinking Water Violations

FluksAqua updates interactive infographic on MCL violations

fluksaqua, hubert colas, infographic, water violations, drinking

After a nationwide examination of water contamination data reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the calendar years of 2015 and 2016, FluksAqua released a localized analysis of health-based drinking water violations focused on the county and city level.

Using EPA’s publicly-available Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) database, FluksAqua analyzed the data at a granular level to provide counties and cities with the technical information to educate their public and empower their water service providers. Available online as an interactive infographic, the data set focuses on potentially harmful health-based violations, including coliforms, nitrates, arsenic, radionuclides and disinfection by-products.

Based on the U.S. ECHO database, FluksAqua created an infographic with the information for each state, including the number of health-based violations, the population affected and the duration of the violation.

The analysis only looked at Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) violations, which means that a system had an unacceptably high level of a specific contaminant. The full interactive infographic is available here.

“Water quality can be impacted by a number of factors, some beyond the control of the water system and not every violation has direct health implications,” said Hubert Colas, president, FluksAquaAmericas. “It is important to ensure this kind of data collection continues so it can be tracked and analyzed to continually improve the national water infrastructure. Many states have made impressive progress in effectively addressing their water quality concerns in 2016.”

A drinking water violation indicates a public water system’s failure to meet an EPA-mandated drinking water standard. Not all violations result in a health issue. A health-based violation indicates a failure in operation or treatment that can affect public health.

States with health-based violations by utilities servicing at least 10% of the population in 2015 or 2016 were:

State Pop. Affected 2015 2016 Difference
Arkansas 11.08% 6.55% -40.88%
Iowa 12.11% 3.33% -72.5%
Kentucky 26.37% 17.73% -32.76%
Louisiana 14.63% 12.71% -13.12%
Maryland 32.62% 31.13% -4.57%
Ohio 15.81% 12.30% -22.20%
Oklahoma 19.10% 16.02% -15.13%
Texas 16.52% 5.88% -64.41%
West Virginia 4.16% 11.32% +172.12%

All other States reported less than 10% of the population were affected by health-based violations.

“Many people take their drinking water for granted when they turn on the tap because water professionals do an excellent job of maintaining the system,” Colas said. “There is a great deal of expertise involved in delivering safe, clean drinking water to a house and it needs to be appreciated. Water utilities across the country should be commended for reporting their violations and working to mitigate the most important issues.”

FluksAqua focused its analysis on five health-based violations:

  • Coliforms: A type of bacteria found in feces. By themselves, they are not always harmful but they are associated with other disease-causing bacteria.
  • Nitrates: Nitrogen-oxygen compounds commonly found in fertilizers. When ingested or absorbed into the bloodstream, they can interfere with the blood’s ability to carry oxygen, especially in children.
  • Arsenic: Tasteless and odorless, it is a semi-metal element found naturally in the earth.
  • Radionuclides: Unstable atoms which emit radiation energy. Long-term exposure is associated with an increased risk of cancer.
  • Disinfection by-products: Chemical compounds generated when a disinfectant reacts with naturally-occurring materials in water. There are four types: Total Trihalomethanes (TTHMs), Haloacetic Acids (HAA5), Bromate and Chlorite. Long-term exposure is associated with cancer or nervous system problems.

The ECHO database contains drinking water data for public water systems regulated under the Safe Drinking Act. Water systems report their drinking water data to a primary agency, usually in the state it operates and focuses on health or the environment, which then reports the information to EPA.