News Feature | February 2, 2018

Radiation, Lead, Arsenic Challenge Texas Utilities

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

Dozens of public utilities in Texas provide drinking water with illegal levels of radiation, lead, and arsenic. That’s according to several recent national studies about contamination, The Texas Tribune reported.

“The latest identified 37 water utilities serving nearly 25,000 Texans in violation of federal standards for radium — a known carcinogen that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency says isn't safe for human consumption at any level,” the report said, citing a study by the nonprofit Environmental Working Group published in January.

These utilities were all in small, rural towns, The Texas Tribune reported.

A study published in 2016 found that 34 rural drinking water systems in Texas had exceeded federal arsenic limits for a decade, the report said. An additional study from that year found “53 of the 100 community water systems with the most violations of the so-called Lead and Copper Rule are in Texas, with more than 60 percent serving populations under 100,” the report said.

Experts told The Texas Tribune that a lack of resources is the reason these problems are showing up at small, rural utilities.

But an additional problem is that many small utilities do not take advantage of state funding that could help them come into compliance.

“[The funding] is out there, and we just need them to come to us and apply,” said Mark Wyatt, the director of program administration and reporting for the Texas Water Development Board, per the report.

Texas sends out federal money from the U.S. EPA's Drinking Water State Revolving Fund, but most of it goes to large utilities, the report said.

“Many small water systems are reluctant to take out loans, especially for expensive technology needed to treat naturally occurring radionuclides, either because they already have debt or they don’t have adequate water rates or other fiscal resources to repay the loan,” Texas Commission on Environmental Quality spokeswoman Andrea Morrow told The Tribune.

Texas is not the only state struggling with water contamination. The recent EWG study found radium in drinking water in all 50 states, according to CBS News. “And 158 public water systems in 27 states reported radium in amounts that exceeded the federal legal limit,” the report said.