More than 18 million Americans are served drinking water by providers that have violated federal laws concerning lead in water, with only a tiny proportion of offenses resulting in any penalty, a new report has found.
The toxic water crisis in Flint, Michigan, is “not anomalous”, the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) report states, with widespread violations of national rules designed to protect people from lead, a known neurotoxin that is harmful even in small doses.
NRDC’s analysis of US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) data shows that 5,363 water systems, which provide water to more than 18 million people, breached the federal Lead and Copper Rule last year. These violations include the failure to properly test water for lead or inadequate treatment of water to prevent lead from leeching from old pipes into the drinking supply.
The violations occurred across virtually every US state last year. Most seriously, 1,110 community water utilities provided water that exceeded the EPA’s actionable limit for lead in water. This means that more than 3.9 million Americans were exposed to dangerously high levels of lead in 2015.
Despite the widespread failure of water suppliers across the US, very few were punished by the EPA last year. Of more than 8,000 violations of federal laws, enforcement action was only taken against 11% of cases. Penalties were sought for just 3% of violations, meaning there is “no cop on the beat”, according to the NRDC.
In a statement, the EPA said it recognized there are “ongoing challenges in compliance with the Lead and Copper Rule”.
“The agency has intensified work with state drinking water programs with a priority focus on implementation of the rule, including engagement with every state drinking water program across the country to ensure they are addressing any high lead levels and fully implementing the current rule,” the regulator said.
The EPA said that many water systems that violated the rules in 2015 have already resolved their problems. A revised Lead and Copper rule won’t appear until 2017 at the earliest, despite the widespread problems in Flint and beyond.
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SOURCE: The Guardian, Oliver Milman