Drinking water quality in the United States is not improving. Rather, people are confronted with water that has elevated levels of harmful compounds like lead, nitrates and bacteria among other contaminants. Such drinking water deprivations are especially true for people who live in vulnerable, disadvantaged communities, as highlighted by two recent reports.
The first paper was published in the journal, Environmental Health, and focused on the socioeconomic disparities in nitrate levels in publicly supplied US drinking water. People who live in lower-income urban and rural areas and received their water from municipal or for-profit water companies were found to have higher levels of nitrate, a nitrogen derivative that can have detrimental human health effects, particularly on young children.
The second comes from a news report in the Wall Street Journal that describes rampant nitrate contamination of domestic wells that many rural residents rely on for their drinking water. These wells are polluted by the fertilizer and manure runoff swept up from surrounding farm fields and deposited into aquifers. Because the wells are privately owned, they are not covered by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act and the residents have little recourse against polluters.
After the Flint water crisis, Americans have awakened to the fact that clean water — the basis of any healthy community — must be protected and that such protections require constant work and attention. Moreover, latent social and economic inequities appear in poor water quality just as they do in other aspects of society. Thus maintaining clean water is an issue of environmental justice, a responsibility that the federal government might be shirking as indicated by the 85 percent drop in civil penalty fines on polluters under Trump administration’s EPA.