MD, KY, OK, TX and LA Top List of National Water Woes
According to carefully collected data reported to the 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 the EPA’s publicly-available 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. 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,” says Hubert Colas, president, 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 per cent of the population (in 2015) were:
All other States reported less than 10 per cent of the population were affected by health-based violations.
Based on the U.S. 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 States with less than one per cent of the population affected by health-based violations were:
“Since the majority of our utilities produce good quality water, many people take their drinking water for granted when they turn on the tap,” explains Colas. “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: 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: 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. 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: 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.
All of the data used in the infographic was drawn from the EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) database. 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, who then report the information to the EPA. The EPA stores this data in its federal database that is accessible to the public.
FluksAqua – a free, practical and moderated Q&A forum (https://www.fluksaqua.com/en/qa/) designed for operators of drinking water distribution, water, and wastewater treatment plants – is the new online community created by a dedicated group of water and wastewater professionals to facilitate a constant and interactive flow of information between operators and professionals on issues of operations, maintenance and asset optimization.