drinking water

“How safe is my drinking water?” The Environmental Working Group can answer your question. / Photo courtesy EWG

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) wants to answer your question “How safe is my drinking water?” Toward that end, the EWG has posted its new Tap Water Database on the internet at www.ewg.org/tapwater. All you need to do is enter your zip code to find out how safe your drinking water is.

The database provides information about contaminants that the utilities serving that zip code have reported to state and/or federal authorities. All 50 states and the District of Columbia are included in the database.

In Florida, the EWG lists 1,644 public utilities that serve 19.5 million residents. The database, which covers the years 2010-2015, indicates that 91 contaminants have been found in the Sunshine State’s public water supplies.

There are various categories on the EWG website. For example, you can click on a tab for “Large Utilities,” “All Utilities With Violations” or “Large Utilities With Violations.” The number of customers served by each utility is also shown.

Drinking water tested for 500 contaminants; found 267

The EWG tested for about 500 contaminants during the 2010-2015 analysis and found 267 contaminants. They include chlorate; strontium; vanadium; 1,4-dioxane; and radium-226.

Utilities with violations earn points for each problem that the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online (ECHO) database shows.

According to the Environmental Working Group’s website, “ECHO water-quality violation scores take into account federal health-based water-quality standards, as well as monitoring, reporting and other drinking-water quality requirements. Points are accrued based on specific problems at the utility — violations of health-based drinking-water standards receive more points than monitoring and reporting violations — and the length of time until the violations were corrected.”

Lance Water in Lake City (in North Florida) serves 75 people. It has accumulated 122 “violation points,” according to the EWG website — the highest number of points accumulated in Florida.

How safe is my drinking water?

One section on the website, “Contaminants found in Florida above health guidelines,” is particularly unnerving. Total trihalomethanes — a byproduct of the disinfection process; they occur “when chlorine or other disinfectants used to control microbial contaminants in drinking water react with naturally occurring organic and inorganic matter in water,” according to the Pennsylvania-based Water Research Center.

Of Florida’s 1,644 water utilities — 1,405 of them, serving 18.4 million people — had total trihalomethanes in excess of EPA health guidelines.

Concentrations of radium-226 that exceeded health guidelines were found in 739 public water systems, serving 12.9 million people, in Florida. Radium-226 “is a radioactive substance found in nature. Pierre and Marie Curie discovered radium in 1898 while conducting research with uranium ore. Ra-226 is produced by the radioactive decay of uranium-238,” according to the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission‘s publication Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs) Regarding Radium-226.

The utilities had the opportunity to review the data for accuracy. According to the EWG,
“Contaminants detected included:
93 linked to an increased risk of cancer. More than 40,000 systems had detections of known or likely carcinogens exceeding established federal or state health guidelines – levels that pose only negligible health risks, but are not legally enforceable;
78 associated with brain and nervous system damage;
63 connected to developmental harm to children or fetuses;
38 that may cause fertility problems;
45 linked to hormonal disruption.

Flint, Mich., is obviously not the only American city with water issues.

For more information, visit ewg.org; water-research.net; or scp.nrc.gov/narmtoolbox/radium%20faq102008.pdf.