Safe Drinking Water
NRDC's Drinking Water Project works to ensure that all Americans have access to safe and affordable drinking water. This means that not only is the water coming out of our taps free of dangerous chemicals and other contaminants, but also that the water is delivered to our homes and businesses quickly and efficiently.
Removing Chemicals from our Drinking Water
Perchlorate is a widespread toxic chemical that is used in very large quantities in rocket fuel, as well as in explosives, road flares, and fireworks. It is known to interfere with the production of thyroid hormone. Because normal levels of thyroid hormone are critical to the development of the brain, thyroid hormone disruption is linked with learning disabilities, decreased IQ, mental retardation, and possibly thyroid cancer.
Perchlorate has been detected in the water in at least 33 states, and has contaminated the drinking water of at least 20 million Americans at levels above the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA) draft safe level. After more than a decade of pressure from environmental and health groups led by NRDC, EPA finally announced in 2011 that it will set a federal drinking water standard for perchlorate. NRDC will push EPA to set a standard that will protect the health of everyone, especially fetuses and young infants.
Banned in the European Union and clearly linked to harm to wildlife and potentially to humans, the pesticide atrazine provides little benefit to offset its risks. Atrazine is the most commonly detected pesticide in U.S. waters. Atrazine is a known endocrine disrupting chemical, which interferes with critical reproductive hormones, even at extremely low levels.
Two NRDC reports have found pervasive contamination of watersheds and drinking water systems across the Midwest and southern United States. Atrazine was found in 80 percent of drinking water samples taken in 153 public water systems. Sixteen out of twenty watersheds sampled in 2007 and 2008 had average concentrations of atrazine above the level that has been shown to harm plants and wildlife. The most recent data confirm that atrazine contaminates watersheds and drinking water. NRDC is calling on EPA to phase out the use of atrazine.
TCE is a very hazardous chlorinated solvent used primarily for metal degreasing -- most notably for jet parts -- and is a widespread drinking water contaminant that is leaching from military bases and industrial sites throughout the country. In addition to cancer, TCE causes harmful effects to the central nervous system, kidney, liver, immune system, male reproductive system, and the developing fetus.
Throughout the years, NRDC spearheaded the work to block or blunt polluter bias on TCE science, and worked with impacted military and civilian communities on TCE issues. NRDC also reported on industry tactics to delay important health assessments on chemicals like TCE.
In 2011, NRDC victoriously settled a 4-year lawsuit brought on behalf of a Tennessee family that had been sickened by TCE-contaminated water. Now, the drinking water for the Holt family and the rest of Dickson County will be protected from TCE contamination.
Hexavalent Chromium (Hex Chrome)
Made famous by Erin Brockovich, hexavalent chromium (also called "hex chrome" or Cr6) has long been known to cause cancer in people and animals via inhalation, and many experts agree that it is a genotoxic chemical (that means it causes damage to cellular DNA, which could lead to cancer). It is also a common contaminant of drinking water.
Currently, EPA regulates chromium as "total chromium," which sets a limit for the mixture of both highly toxic hex chrome and the much safer trivalent form, Cr3. NRDC and allies have been pressing EPA to regulate hex chrome separately, so as not to dilute out the risk of hex chrome with Cr3, and to set the exposure limit at a much more health protective level.
In 2008, the Associated Press reported on the presence of pharmaceuticals in drinking water, which brought to the public's attention to a very significant problem that EPA scientists have been warning about for years, but our laws have failed to address. Prescription drug waste includes chemotherapy agents, mood stabilizers, schizophrenia medications, anti-depressants, hormone therapies, heart medications, and a plethora of other drugs that were never meant to be given to the general population.
Some of the pharmaceuticals detected in drinking water may be at levels high enough to affect our normal bodily functions, some may interfere with prescribed medications, and some may have carried warning labels against giving them to children, pregnant women, etc. They end up in our water supply from waste during the manufacturing process, from over-prescription leading to improper disposal of leftover medications in the toilet or sink, and from urinary excretion of the still-active medications. Yet, many of them are not effectively removed by standard waste water treatments, and end up in the our tap water. NRDC's expansive report, Dosed Without Prescription, identifies all these sources of contamination. NRDC is now working to find solutions to this problem.
To properly dispose of your expired or unused medications, look for a "take back" program near you.
Fixing Leaking Pipes and Main Breaks
Our nation's drinking water infrastructure often remains "out of sight, out of mind," yet it is in a state of serious disrepair. Stories about breaks in 70-year-old water mains in Washington, DC, and steam explosions from broken water pipes in downtown Manhattan, will undoubtedly become more frequent as our nation's water infrastructure nears the end of its expected lifespan. More importantly, cracks in drinking water supply pipes, unprotected water sources, and other preventable problems put our nation's drinking water supply at increasing risk for waterborne diseases and hazardous contaminants.
According to recent studies, communities will need more than $300 billion over the next 20 years to repair, replace, or upgrade aging drinking water and wastewater facilities. The EPA's own Clean Water and Drinking Water Infrastructure Gap Analysis has found a more than $500 billion gap between current spending and projected needs for both drinking water and wastewater infrastructure over the next 20 years. NRDC is working to find conventional and creative solutions to these funding problems.
NRDC research shows that bottled water is not necessarily any more clean or safe than regular tap water. In fact, federal regulation of tap water is more stringent than that of bottled water. Furthermore, the environmental impacts associated with the production and transportation of plastic bottles of water all around the world are wasting our limited, precious resources. NRDC is working in collaboration with other groups to bring Americans back to tap water.
Find Out More: Latest Blogs from NRDC Experts
- California sets strong public health goal for toxic rocket-fuel chemical in drinking water
- California moves forward to limit toxic perchlorate contamination - EPA still overdue
- Who's to blame for oil waste in Californians' drinking water?
- On the 40th Anniversary of the Safe Drinking Water Act, Where We Were and Where We Are Going
- Burden of the Boom: Who Will Pay the Price for Fracking in California?
last revised 2/6/2012
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