The Environmental Working Group's national Tap Water Database could fuel Americans' concerns about drinking water quality


By now, most water utility operators have likely heard that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has released its national Tap Water Database, which allows Americans to enter their zip codes to see the levels of potentially harmful chemicals in their city’s drinking water.

The site aggregates and analyzes data collected over a two-year period from nearly 50,000 public water systems in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Users are able to view all the contaminants detected in tests by the utilities themselves and reported to federal or state authorities.

Instead of comparing the levels of pollutants to the legal limits set by regulatory agencies, EWG’s guide relies on current scientific findings to discern safety levels, comparing them to state and national averages.

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“Americans deserve the fullest picture possible of what’s in their tap water,” said EWG President Ken Cook in a press release. “Just because your tap water gets a passing grade from the government doesn’t always mean it’s safe. It’s time to stop basing environmental regulations on political or economic compromises, and instead listen to what scientists say about the long-term effects of toxic chemicals and empower Americans to protect themselves from pollutants even as they demand the protective action they deserve from government.”

The data collected by EWG analyzes drinking water tests recorded by the EPA and state agencies from 2010 to 2015. All told, the utilities tested for approximately 500 different contaminants and found 267.

What’s it mean for operators?

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As more citizens become informed and take an active interest in water quality, states could see mounting pressure to adhere to stricter guidelines for contaminants in drinking water. Operators will largely have to take a wait-and-see approach with regards to state and federal water policies, but they might be dealing with a few more "armchair experts" in the coming months and years while they wait.

One thing appears certain, though: events like the Flint water crisis are causing the public to take a greater interest in its drinking water, and this database will create more headlines and fuel those concerns. A Gallup poll published earlier this year showed that 61 percent of Americans worried “a great deal” about drinking water pollution in 2016 compared to 55 percent in 2015 and 60 percent in 2014.

Another recent public opinion study done by the Water Quality Association (WQA) shows that water-quality concerns have increased in the past two years among Americans. The study found that 29 percent of homeowners surveyed were concerned about health risks associated with tap water compared to just 12 percent two years ago. Meanwhile, 36 percent of those surveyed said they are concerned about contaminants in their water, up from 25 percent in 2015.

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“The significant increase in these numbers is sobering, but not surprising,” said WQA Executive Director Pauli Undesser in a press release. “Homeowners are seeing more and more evidence of water issues across the country and are understandably concerned about protecting their family the best they can.”

Association supports database

EWG's Tap Water Database got an endorsement from the WQA, whch issued a statement calling the database a good way for consumers to learn about the types of contaminants that could be present in their local drinking water.

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“It’s important for consumers to know what’s in their drinking water,” said WQA Government Affairs Director David Loveday in a press release. “This new tool from EWG will help homeowners across the country determine whether they should consider having their water tested and whether they need some form of water treatment.” 


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