If you want to know more about potentially harmful chemicals that may be in your drinking water, check out Environmental Working Group’s new national Tap Water Database.
By entering your zip code or local utility’s name, you can find all contaminants detected in tests by the utilities themselves and reported to federal or state authorities. Every water utility in Palm Beach County is included in the database.
The database contains data from almost 50,000 public water systems in all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
It identifies pollutants found in virtually all U.S. water systems, said Sonya Lunder, EWG senior analyst.
Lunder said the point of the database is make people aware that there is a big gap between what is legal in the water supply and what is safe. Most water systems are in compliance, but even so, may still contain contaminants in concentrations exceeding the levels that scientists say pose health risks, she said.
“It is definitely less safe than people believe. I think people assume they are going to smell or taste the problem or see discolored water,” Lunder said.
EWG researchers spent the last two years collecting data from state agencies and the EPA for drinking water tests conducted from 2010 to 2015 by 48,712 water utilities in all 50 states and D.C. All told, the utilities tested for approximately 500 different contaminants and found 267.
Contaminants detected in the nation’s tap water included:
- 93 linked to an increased risk of cancer. More than 40,000 water systems had detections of known or likely carcinogens exceeding established federal or state health guidelines – levels that pose minimal but real health risks, but are not legally enforceable.
- 78 associated with brain and nervous system damage.
- 63 connected to developmental harm to children or fetuses.
- 45 linked to hormone disruption.
- 38 that may cause fertility problems.
Of course, it is difficult to quantify exactly what the risk is and how large a role contaminants found in water may play in any disease. The cancer risk would vary, Lunder said, adding that people should be concerned about the effects of contaminated drinking water combined with exposure from other sources, such as polluted air.
EWG also provides a list of filter systems that can significantly reduce the contaminant levels in their water. It receives 3 percent of sales of filters sold on Amazon to people who have clicked through from its website.
A large source of pollution across the country is agricultural and industrial runoff that ends up in the water supply.
But for Palm Beach County’s largest water utility, the Palm Beach County Water Utilities Department, that isn’t a problem. The water it supplies to 530,000 people comes from the underground Biscayne Aquifer and in the Glades, from the deeper Floridan Aquifer, the utility’s spokesman Shawn Reed said.
After being drawn from the aquifers, the water is filtered and disinfected.
The EWG database states the utility’s water was found to have two contaminants detected at levels above health guidelines.
However, under the Safe Drinking Water Act, there are no mandated levels of the two chemicals, chlorate and hexavalent chromium, said Palm Beach County Water Utilities spokesman Shawn Reed.
Reed said that chlorate is a byproduct of chemicals used to disinfect water. Chromium is naturally occurring in the rock surrounding the water in the aquifers.
“The numbers they are reporting are correct. We have provided those to the EPA and that is where EWG has gotten them from,” Reed said.
The Environmental Protection Agency has standards that all water utilities have to meet, and Palm Beach County Water Utilities meets those.
“”If the EPA chooses to add chlorate and hexavalent chromium to the guidelines, we will meet the levels they determine for those,” Reed said. “The important thing to note is that the drinking water is safe. We do meet all the standards that have been established.”