More than 20% of the nation’s water treatment systems have violated key provisions of the Safe Drinking Water Act over the last five years, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data. The Safe Drinking Water Act requires communities to deliver safe tap water to local residents. But since 2004, the water provided to more than 49 million people has contained illegal concentrations of chemicals like arsenic, or radioactive substances like uranium, as well as dangerous bacteria often found in sewage.
Regulators are informed of these violations as they are discovered. But regulatory records show that fewer than 6% of the water systems that broke the law were ever fined or punished by state or federal officials, including those at the Environmental Protection Agency, which has ultimate responsibility for enforcing standards.
Studies indicate that drinking water contaminants are linked to millions of instances of illness in the United States each year. What’s more, water pollution has become a growing concern for lawmakers because government oversight of polluters has waned. In some instances, drinking water violations were one-time events, and probably posed little risk. But for hundreds of other systems, illegal contamination persisted for years, records show. An analysis of EPA data by the New York Times shows that Safe Drinking Water Act violations have occurred in every state. But, almost none of those systems were ever punished. The problem, according to current and former government officials, is that enforcing the Safe Drinking Water Act has not been a federal priority over the past eight years.
Recently, the Senate Environment and Public Works committee questioned a high-ranking EPA official about the agency’s enforcement of drinking-water safety laws. The EPA is expected to announce a new policy for how it polices the nation’s 54,700 water systems. In fact, EPA administrator Lisa P. Jackson has already announced that she plans to institute a wide-ranging overhaul of the agency’s Clean Water Act enforcement program. Hopefully, the new administrator’s reforms will drastically change the way the EPA investigates and prosecutes drinking water violations in our country. Without question, the last administration provided a perfect example of what happens when political leadership fails to protect our health and the environment.
Source: New York Times
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