Nov 11, 2016

Data Show Major Health-Based Drinking Water Violations Across U.S.

Eight states with violations have utilities servicing at least 10% of population

drinking water, violations, u.s., infographic, states, safety, health

According to data reported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by water systems and utilities across the country, there were more than 7,500 health-based drinking water violations in 2015.

Using EPA’s publicly available Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) database, FluksAqua analyzed the data with a focus on potentially harmful health-based violations, including coliforms, nitrates, arsenic, radionuclides and disinfection byproducts. The analysis only looked at Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) violations, which means that a system had an unacceptably high level of a specific contaminant. Every state reported at least one MCL violation during the year. 

“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 of FluksAqua Americas. “However, it is important to ensure every state keeps reporting water quality issues so data can be tracked and analyzed to continually improve the national water infrastructure.”

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 were:

  • Arkansas (11.08%);
  • Iowa (12.11%);
  • Kentucky (26.37%);
  • Louisiana (14.63%);
  • Maryland (32.62%);
  • Ohio (15.81%);
  • Oklahoma (19.1%); and
  • Texas (16.52%).

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

Based on the EPA 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 full interactive infographic is available here.

The states with less than 1% of the population affected by health-based violations were:

  • Colorado (0.32%);
  • Delaware (0.48%);
  • Minnesota (0.29%);
  • North Dakota (0.5%); and
  • Washington (0.26%).

“Since the majority of our utilities produce good quality water, many people take their drinking water for granted when they turn on the tap,” 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 are to be commended for reporting their violations and working to mitigate the most important issues.”

FluksAqua focused its analysis on five health-based violations:

  • Coliforms are a type of bacteria found in feces. By themselves, they are not always harmful, but they are associated with other disease-causing bacteria. The microbes can cause diarrhea, cramps, nausea, headaches and other symptoms.
  • Nitrates are 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, is a semi-metal element found naturally in the earth. Exposure to high levels of arsenic can lead to thickening and discoloration of the skin, stomach pain, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, numbness in the hands and feet, partial paralysis and blindness.
  • Radionuclides are unstable atoms that emit radiation energy. Long-term exposure is associated with an increased risk of cancer.
  • Disinfection byproducts are chemical compounds generated when a disinfectant reacts with naturally occurring materials in water. There are four types: total trihalomethanes, haloacetic acids, bromate and chlorite. Long-term exposure is associated with cancer or nervous system problems.

All of the data used in the infographic was drawn from EPA’s ECHO database. The database contains drinking water data for public water systems regulated under the Safe Drinking Water 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 report the information to EPA. EPA stores this data in its federal database that is accessible to the public.