About six months ago, just as Flint began to acknowledge its lead crisis, a water testing expert from an EPA task force predicted that “every major city east of the Mississippi” was underestimating lead levels in their water. A big report from the NRDC now confirms that about 18 million Americans are living with lead testing violations.
The NRDC’s “What’s in Your Water? Flint and Beyond” has some pretty devastating findings, but let’s start with finding out who those 18 million people are who might be consuming unsafe levels of lead. In 2015, the NRDC says that 5,363 water systems nationwide violated the EPA’s testing guidelines for lead, serving 18,164,558 people.
Not all of these communities shown in red necessarily had lead levels which exceeded the EPA’s action level of 15 parts per billion (ppb). But they all had some kind of violation of the EPA’s Lead and Copper Rule, which established new regulations in 1991 for detecting and removing lead in drinking water. As many reports have revealed since Flint, city agencies are not always following the Lead and Copper Rule’s testing guidelines. In fact, critics have called for even more stringent testing based on what we know now about the US’s aging infrastructure. Even more troubling: the EPA only followed up with about 11 percent of the violations.
Another important thing the report notes: Even after all that’s happened in Flint, Michigan’s Department of Environmental Quality has not officially reported the city to be in violation of the Lead and Copper Rule. So there might be even more communities at risk than we think. Which is all the more reason to take all necessary precautions now.