What's legal and what's safe when it comes to your drinking water?

Posted at 7:01 AM, Jul 26, 2017
and last updated 2017-07-26 12:43:42-04

It’s easy to turn on the tap and expect clean water, but an environmental group is proving it may not be that easy.

According to the Environmental Working Group (EWG), the difference between legal and safe when it comes to the water you drink is important. Contaminants detected in water samples throughout the country’s water infrastructure are perfectly legal, but could pose health risks according to their experts.

That’s why the group has released a first-of-its-kind water database that allows you to drill down to the specific numbers in your neighborhood. The database, available as of Wednesday morning, allows you to type in a zip code, and instantly pull up the most recently available testing of water from your local water utility.

Standards for drinking water were set by Congress in 1974 with the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act. It allows the EPA to set levels of contaminants that are allowed in our drinking water. However, the EWG points out that new contaminants haven’t been added in more than a decade.

EWG pulled data from roughly 50,000 water utilities to compile the interactive list.

Among some of the highlights:

  • 40,000 water utilities showed the presence of a cancer-causing material in their water supply
  • 250,000,000 people get water that tested to have some level of hexavalent chromium, the same contaminant that led to the famed Erin Brockovich lawsuits
  • 19,000 public water systems had at least one detection of lead above a level that some scientists say could put small children at risk.

It’s important to note there is a difference between what the database endorses as “safe” and what is considered legal.

If you’d like to know more about the EWG’s latest research, or find out what contaminants were detected by the group’s standards in your neighborhood you can see the full research — including it’s interactive zip code tracker by visiting their website