EWG Study Finds Toxic Chemicals in Drinking Water

One of America’s most taken for granted luxuries is our access to clean and abundant water. Simply open the tap, and you can fill your cups and pans, wash your hands, and rinse your dishes. The average American does so without thought, assuming the free-flowing water is safe for use. However, a recent study released by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) says that our water might not be as harmless as we thought.

EWG, a nonprofit focused on agricultural subsidies, toxic chemicals, drinking water pollutants, and corporate accountability, found that 22 carcinogens commonly found in tap water, including arsenic, byproducts of water disinfectants, uranium, and radium, could cumulatively cause over 100,000 cancer cases. The report found that contaminant levels met federally established water quality standards; however, these legal levels could still pose a threat to human health. In effect, singular contaminants don’t pose a threat to human health, but when combined, these contaminants create a deadly cocktail.  The articles lead author, Sydney Evans, describes the issue with current water quality regulations, stating, “Drinking water contains complex mixtures of contaminants, yet government agencies currently assess the health hazards of tap water pollutants one by one. In the real world, people are exposed to combinations of chemicals, so it is important that we start to assess health impacts by looking at the combined effects of multiple pollutants.”

In recent years, it has become clear that providing safe drinking water is becoming more and more of a struggle. Flint and Newark made headlines following the discovery of dangerously high levels of lead while Des Moines’s water utility engaged in a public battle with Iowa farmers over nitrate contamination. These nationwide failures to provide clean, safe drinking water should serve as a warning to South Dakotans: take care of your water. Water treatment is a costly process and—as can be seen in this study—doesn’t always work. Bioaccumulation, the gradual process of compounding chemical exposures, can lead to serious health impacts later in a person’s life. To ensure that we don’t pay the price later, ensure that your local water is treated the way you want your own health and body to be treated. Don’t put anything in the water that you wouldn’t want coming out of the tap—and don’t let monied interests and habitual polluters bully you into settling for—in the words of ecologist Paul Shepard—a “world which is just not quite fatal.” Avoid the “diet of weak poisons” that is becoming all too common in our world.

To learn more about the quality of your own water, visit https://www.ewg.org/tapwater/.

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