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Unsafe US Water, State-by-State Analysis Reveals Varied Breach Rates

Unsafe US Water

United States: In the United States, the water supply stands among the safest globally, as asserted by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nevertheless, instances of contamination and breaches in safety persist, bearing grave consequences for public well-being.

Signed into law in 1974 and amended in 1996, the SDWA, or the Safe Drinking Water Act, was passed in order to ensure the health of the citizens of the United States by regulating the distribution of the nation’s public water supply. In order to maintain such standards practical, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) laid down restrictions on over 90 pollutants found in drinking water acquaintance, including chemical pollutants like arsenic and lead alongside microbial pollutants comprising Giardia and Cryptosporidium, as stated in Newsweek. 

Any failure to adhere to these restrictions results in an official “breach.” While a significant portion of documented water safety breaches stem from tardiness in water surveillance and reporting, thousands of health-related breaches occur annually.

To delve into the variance of these breaches across different states, Newsweek has aggregated data from the EPA’s Enforcement and Compliance History Online pertaining to safe drinking water. Incidents linked to human health were tallied for each state over the preceding five years, spanning from 2019 to 2023. Utilizing census data from July 2023, the frequency of breaches per 100,000 individuals in each state, alongside Washington DC, was computed.

Per 100,000 individuals, the states with the highest incidence of breaches between 2019 and 2023 were:

– Alaska: 305 breaches per 100,000

– New Mexico: 162

– Louisiana: 151

– Oklahoma: 127

– Wyoming: 103

Conversely, those exhibiting the fewest health-related breaches during this timeframe were:

– Hawaii: 0.6

– Alabama: 2

– South Carolina: 3

– Tennessee: 3

– Washington, DC: 4

Nevertheless, the quantity of health-related breaches does not inherently correlate with water quality. According to a spokesperson from the EPA, “The data reported to the EPA consists of breaches of Safe Drinking Water Act regulations.” Compliance data furnished to the EPA does not directly ascertain drinking water quality, as this hinges on the nature of the breach and other distinctive factors pertinent to each water system, as per the reports by Newsweek. 

It is also noteworthy that states such as Alaska and Wyoming possess relatively modest populations relative to their size, resulting in a higher incidence of breaches per capita due to the scarcity of inhabitants. Indeed, by scrutinizing absolute figures, Texas registers the highest number of health-based drinking water breaches. However, given its status as the second most populous state in the US, a greater number of drinking water systems are requisite (hence, anticipation of more breaches owing to the sheer magnitude of water systems).

Despite its relatively diminutive populace, Alaska has recently garnered attention in the news owing to the contamination of its rivers and streams with “milky orange” metal ores, presumed to have emanated from thawing permafrost, as per Newsweek. 

Concurrently, the EPA has disseminated a nationwide alert following recent federal inspections that unveiled 70 percent of US water systems as non-compliant with SDWA standards, with numerous systems susceptible to cyber assaults.

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