News Feature | October 2, 2018

Race, Class Linked To Clean Water Inaccessibility

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Low-income communities and people in minority groups carry a greater burden in terms of exposure to unsafe drinking water.

“Drinking water violations may be more common in U.S. counties with greater numbers of minorities, low-income families, and uninsured households,” Reuters reported, citing a new report.

Researchers drew on data from the U.S. EPA's Safe Drinking Water Information System, analyzing water violations from 2011 to 2015, according to Reuters. They published their findings in the American Journal of Public Health.

The objective of the study was to “assess the extent to which drinking water violations in the United States differed on the basis of county race/ethnicity and socioeconomic status,” the study stated.

The findings highlight a clear correlation between race and class as it relates to drinking water safety.

"We found that in counties that with a higher proportion of people of color, low-income households, and uninsured households, there was a greater risk of turning on the kitchen tap and water pouring out that did not meet drinking water standards," Yolanda McDonald and Nicole Jones, the researchers, said, per Reuters.

The researchers spelled out how water system attributes affected the findings.

“Minorities face significant challenges, including exposure to poor water quality. The most notable differences in both initial and repeat violations that we observed were among community water systems that serve large populations. Our most consistent finding was the positive association of initial and repeat violations with the proportion of those who were uninsured, irrespective of stratification,” the study stated.

The study called on water officials to intervene to the benefit of these communities.

“Greater efforts are needed to ensure that counties with higher proportions of minorities, uninsured households, and low-income households have access to safe drinking water, irrespective of the size of population served by the community water system,” the report stated.

McDonald and Jones discussed the findings in light of the Flint water crisis.

“The Flint Water Crisis demonstrated that while the United States has one of the safest drinking water supplies in the world, there are problems. Flint is not an isolated incident,” they told Reuters.

The Center for Public Integrity published extensive reporting last year on how race and class affect access to clean drinking water in the U.S.