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KUNC is among the founding partners of the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration of public media stations that serve the Rocky Mountain states of Colorado Idaho, Utah and Wyoming.

Drinking Water Database Calls Attention To Contaminants

A database compiled by an environmental group shows many drinking water systems across the U.S. are contaminated with dangerous chemicals.
A database compiled by an environmental group shows many drinking water systems across the U.S. are contaminated with dangerous chemicals.

The Environmental Working Group on Wednesday updated its Tap Water Database, which aggregates data from nearly 50,000 water utilities across the country to spotlight dangerous levels of contamination

In Colorado, for example, tests conducted by the state’s 886 water utilities detected, between 2012 and 2017, 91 contaminants at levels either above health guidelines or above legal limits.

It’s been nearly 20 years since the EPA added any new chemical contaminants to the list regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act. In addition, said EWG scientist Tasha Stoiber, “The maximum contaminant levels that are set, a lot of them are outdated and they’re not as protective of health as they could be.”

In Utah, water utility tests detected 65 contaminants. The database also shows 56 contaminants in Wyoming, 55 in Idaho, 61 in Montana, and 98 in Nevada.

Mountain West states, Stoiber said, are vulnerable to contamination from industries like mining, oil and gas extraction, and agriculture, as well as naturally occurring elements like radium and arsenic. Many of the contaminants are known to cause cancer or reproductive health issues. 

In addition to state-wide information, the database is searchable by zip code.

In a statement, an EPA spokesperson said, “Over 92 percent of the population supplied by community water systems receives drinking water that meets all health-based standards all of the time. EPA is working aggressively with our state partners to push that number higher.”

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City, KUNR in Nevada and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.

 

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