If you live in the United States, there is a nearly one-in-four chance your tap water is either unsafe to drink or has not been properly monitored for contaminants in accordance with federal law, a new study has found.
In 2015, nearly 77 million Americans lived in places where the water systems were in some violation of safety regulations, including the 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act, according to the report released on Tuesday from the Natural Resources Defense Council, a New York-based environmental advocacy group.
It’s not only that some tap water has high levels of lead, nitrates, arsenic or other pollutants, said Mae Wu, a senior attorney with the council’s health program. It is that too often, a lack of reporting means residents cannot be sure whether their drinking water is contaminated or not.
The issue is not new; tap water safety violations across the United States have been reported again and again and again. The new study is an attempt to tell the big-picture story, Ms. Wu said, as a backdrop to the piecemeal reports coming out of towns and cities across the country.
The council’s report found that there were around 80,000 reported violations of drinking water safety regulations in 2015. Of those, more than 12,000 were “health-based” violations, or cases that involved actual contamination problems. In addition, the N.R.D.C. said, “repercussions for violations were virtually nonexistent. Nearly nine in 10 violations were subject to no formal action.”
Ms. Wu said that data is “not sexy,” making it hard to use in pushing for meaningful actions like investment in national infrastructure maintenance. “For drinking water infrastructure, like the pipes and the mains, it’s out of sight, out of mind — until the main breaks outside your house, and you can’t drink your own water,” she said.
She added that part of the difficulty in fixing these problems comes down to a complicated regulatory system, in which the responsibility to monitor adherence to federal laws falls largely to states. The report, which relied on data collected by the E.P.A. itself, includes a list of 12 states with the most water safety violations based on population; it is topped by Texas, Florida, Pennsylvania and New Jersey.