Friday, April 23rd, 2010
It has been so long since the federal law regulating tap water has been updated that since 2004, more than one-fifth of the U.S. population has consumed tap water that the government classifies as toxic, but still approves for human consumption.
“People don’t understand that just because water is technically legal, it can still present health risks,” said Pankaj Parekh, director of water quality for the City of Los Angeles.
Even though more than 60,000 chemicals are used in the United States each year and most have never been tested for human safety, the Safe Water Drinking Act regulates only 91 different toxins. Many of these are regulations have not been updated since the 1980s or even since the law was first passed in 1974. The law does not take into account newer findings that certain chemicals can be more toxic in combination than separately. To top it off, not a single chemical has been added to the law since 2000.
Science has passed the law by, as researchers have identified hundreds of new chemicals that can cause cancer or other diseases if consumed in tap water. Many of these chemicals are even regulated by some federal agencies, yet are still allowed in tap water. An analysis by the New York Times of 19 million drinking-water tests found that since 2004, more than 62 million people have consumed fully legal tap water that contained contaminants at levels violating at least one federal health guideline. Likewise, numerous scientific studies suggest that millions of people a year become sick from toxins contained in drinking water.
Yet many of these diseases take a long time to appear, and can never be definitively linked to tap water.
“These chemicals accumulate in body tissue. They affect developmental and hormonal systems in ways we don’t understand,” said Linda S. Birnbaum, director of the National Institute of Environmental Health Sciences. “There’s growing evidence that numerous chemicals are more dangerous than previously thought, but the EPA still gives them a clean bill of health.”