This article appears in the Health Living fall 2017 magazine.

Is your drinking water safe? An environmental advocacy group recently came out with a study that says U.S. tap water gets a passing grade of “safe” from the government but is actually filled with pollutants.

The study from the Environmental Working Group analyzed 28 million water records from almost 50,000 public water systems in all 50 states and the District of Columbia, with the help of scientists and toxicology researchers. The Tap Water Database contains EWG’s findings that public water is filled with industrial and agricultural contaminants, some of which are regulated by the government and hundreds that are not. These pollutants have been linked to cancer, brain and nervous system damage or developmental defects.

“U.S. tap water is contaminated by more than 250 different chemicals, dozens of which are at levels that scientists say could increase certain health risks,” said Nneka Leiba, director of the healthy living science program at EWG.

Response

More than 90 percent of the country’s drinking water systems meet all of the Environmental Protection Agency’s health-based drinking water standards every day throughout the year, according to Enesta Jones, a spokeswoman for the EPA. The agency sets drinking water standards for 90 contaminants including microorganisms, disinfectants, disinfection byproducts, inorganic and organic chemicals, and radionuclides.

“America’s drinking water remains among the safest in the world and protecting drinking water is one of EPA’s top priorities,” Jones said. “We take our commitment to protecting public health seriously and when issues arise, we work closely with states, local governments and water suppliers to review and address, as appropriate.”

Two of the country’s largest water service companies also stand by the quality of U.S. tap water.

“The EWG report portrays drinking water standards that have been established by leading scientists as unsafe. We will continue to rely on the regulations set by the EPA, rather than alternative guidelines, as we continue to protect and provide Earth’s most essential resource to our customers,” said Dan Lockwood, manager of communications for Pennsylvania-based Aqua America.

Katherine Bell, spokeswoman at American Water, said that in addition to conducting more than 1 million quality tests annually to ensure that the company’s water meets standards set by the EPA to protect public health, “we also work very hard to make sure that our customers have access to their water quality data, which is sent annually in a Water Quality Report and also available online.”

The Environmental Working Group created an online tool to share its findings. Visit ewg.org/tapwater and type in your ZIP code.

Recent dangers

The nation’s trust in tap water took a hit in summer 2015 when high levels of lead were discovered in the water supply of Flint, Michigan. Data compiled by EWG show that between 2010 and 2015, nearly 19,000 public water systems had at least one detection of lead at levels that could pose a risk to bottle-fed infants.

While everyone should be concerned about what’s in their water, Leiba said, “households with pregnant women and babies or infants should especially be informed.”

“The Environmental Protection Agency has not added a single contaminant to its list of ‘regulated’ pollutants under the Safe Drinking Water Act since the amendments to the law back in 1996. While regulation is best, a water filter will drastically reduce the levels of contaminants in tap water,” Leiba said.