State of American Drinking Water

State of American Drinking Water

When most Americans drink a glass of tap water, they're also getting a dose of industrial or agricultural contaminants linked to cancer, brain and nervous system damage, developmental defects, fertility problems or hormone disruption. That's the disturbing truth documented by EWG's Tap Water Database – the most complete source available on the quality of U.S. drinking water, aggregating and analyzing data from almost 50,000 public water utilities nationwide.

The vast majority of the nation's drinking water supplies get a passing grade from federal and state regulatory agencies. However, many of the 250-plus contaminants detected through water sampling and testing are at levels that are perfectly legal under the Safe Drinking Water Act or state regulations, but well above levels authoritative scientific studies have found to pose health risks.

What's more, the Environmental Protection Agency has not added a new contaminant to the list of regulated drinking water pollutants in more than 20 years. This inexcusable failure of the federal government’s responsibility to protect public health means there are no legal limits for the more than 160 unregulated contaminants the tests detected in the nation’s tap water.

Unanswered questions    

Utilities must treat their water to meet state and federal standards before piping it into homes, schools and businesses, but water treatment chemicals can themselves produce other potentially harmful contaminants. Utilities must also provide annual water quality reports to their customers, but those reports leave many unanswered questions, such as:

  • How did these contaminants get into drinking water?

  • What's the truly safe level of a contaminant – not just for healthy adults, but for babies and children whose brains and bodies are still developing, pregnant women and their developing fetuses, and people with medical conditions that make them more susceptible to chemicals' effects?

  • Why do regulatory standards focus on keeping treatment costs down instead of protecting public health?

  • What contaminants are in the water that local utilities are not required to treat?

  • How can individuals take steps to ensure that the purity and safety of their water goes beyond what the law requires?

EWG believes Americans have an absolute right to know the full story about the water they drink. We believe that knowledge will lead to improvements in controlling pollution at the source, tougher regulatory standards, and upgrading of treatment plants, delivery pipes and other drinking water infrastructure.

The Tap Water Database lets people enter their zip codes


to see exactly what contaminants were found in their water, at what levels, and what this could mean for their health. It provides information on the most widespread and potentially harmful contaminants and their sources – including agriculture, a leading source of pollution in the U.S. that is largely exempt from federal laws designed to protect drinking water.


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