The Tap Water Crisis

In late 2021, the residents of Jackson, Mississippi, went without water for nearly a month. A cold spell caused many of the city’s aging pipes to burst, sparking boil water advisories throughout the city. While that was the longest outage, many more followed throughout 2022, prompting the EPA to launch an investigation into the city’s failing water system. Many of the city’s residence have given up on the water supply, instead relying on bottled water.

The same is true for Benton Harbor, Michigan. In 2021, the city suffered a lead contamination problem much more severe than the issues facing nearby Flint a few years earlier. Residents said the water poured out of the taps “sizzling like Alka-Seltzer.” While Flint averaged a lead contamination of 20 parts per billion, Benton Harbor tested as high as 889 parts per billion. According to the EPA, no level of lead exposure is safe. Just as in Jackson, the people of Benton Harbor don’t trust their taps.

The CDC estimates that annually, nearly 20 million Americans fall ill due to contaminated drinking water. Two Virginia Tech professors wrote in the Washington Post that Flint is not an isolated case: “It’s not unusual for cities to have lead in their water supplies. In 2004, The Washington Post reported that 274 water utilities serving 11.5 million consumers had exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency’s lead standard in the previous four years and that several cities (including Boston, New York and Philadelphia) were out of compliance with EPA reporting requirements.” Chicago has 385,000 lead water pipes, and up until 1986 mandated their use. There are about 6 million lead pipes across the country. Congress allocated $15 billion to replace lead pipes as part of its Infrastructure bill in 2021, but it would cost upwards of $47 billion to replace all lead pipes throughout the country.

Even more startling, the authors called it a myth to say that if tap water samples meet EPA standards, the water is safe. For instance, the release of toxic lead into tap water lines can be sporadic. The testing may occur on “flushed” water lines, which may affect the sampling.

What’s in our tap water?

Note: Data comes from the Natural Resources Defense Council

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Fecal bacteria (coliforms)

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Chemical Disinfectants

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Nitrites and Nitrates

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Lead and Copper

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Radioactive Nuclides

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The tap water problem is worse than you think

From the most rural parts of America to the country’s largest cities — millions of Americans primary source of water for daily activities is tap water. We drink, shower, and brush our teeth with potentially toxic tap water on a daily basis with little, to no, warning.

Even when violations are reported to the EPA, the agency rarely takes action. Research finds that in 2015, the EPA took action on just 13 percent out of over 80,000 violations that had been reported.

The drinking fountains in many schools still use lead pipes. According to Environment America, more than 70% of schools tested in the United States have confirmed instances of lead contamination. Worse, the standards for lead in tap water are actually less strict than the restrictions for lead in purified (bottled) water.

The EPA has not updated the regulations on tap water set forth by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) since 1996. Some contaminants remain unregulated, putting Americans across the country at risk. Substances such as polyfluoroalkyl and perfluoroalkyl, known as PFAS, are a group of manmade chemicals that have been linked to serious health complications. These synthetic substances have seeped into our waterways after being released by industrial, military, and firefighting operations. PFAS chemicals are also found in disposable lunch bowls. New research has demonstrated a cause-and-effect link between PFAS chemicals and reproductive harm.

Does your tap water have PFAS in it? If you are concerned, the Rhode Island Department of Health recommends that you not boil tap water, since that will concentrate these chemicals. The Department suggests you “reduce your risk of exposure to these chemicals by using bottled water or other licensed drinking water that has been tested for these chemicals or that uses a treatment that removes these chemicals.” Routine showering and bathing are not a major source of exposure for PFAS chemicals.

The Environmental Working Group has more information at its own tap water database. The EWG recently found 91 tap water contaminants linked to cancer that could be in your local water.

Below are some of the most egregious examples of water contamination in the United States.

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Flint, Michigan

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Fresno, California

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Brady, Texas

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Portland, Oregon

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Newark, New Jersey

What About Copper?

The federal government has authorized 15 billion dollars to replace lead pipes that are used for drinking water and other purposes. The lead pipe replacements are likely copper or plastic pipes. Learn about copper toxicity at

The Water Process

Why is tap water across the country putting American families at risk? And why does tap water taste different from other filtered water?

Tap water is regulated by the EPA, while other water, such as purified bottled water, faces additional regulations from the FDA and goes through additional purification.

What About Purified and Bottled Water?

Bottled water generally starts out as tap water before it undergoes superior purification. Under federal law, bottled water is regulated by the Food and Drug Administration. The FDA has regulations that are just as stringent as the EPA when it comes to water quality — and oftentimes, have additional regulations that are more demanding.

News articles published throughout the U.S. are mentioning a United States Geological Survey (USGS) study that revealed at least 45% of the nation’s tap water is estimated to be contaminated with one or more types of PFAS, which are forever chemicals and can lead to adverse health risks in people.

Consumers should know that all bottled water products made by members of the International Bottled Water Association (IBWA) must meet stringent PFAS standards adopted by the association in 2019.

All bottled water products – whether from groundwater or public water sources – are produced utilizing a multi-barrier approach. From source to finished product, a multi-barrier approach helps prevent possible harmful contamination to the finished product as well as storage, production, and transportation equipment. Many of the steps in a multi-barrier system are effective in safeguarding bottled water from microbiological and other contamination. Measures in a multi-barrier approach may include one or more of the following: source protection, source monitoring, reverse osmosis, distillation, micro-filtration, carbon filtration, ozonation, and ultraviolet (UV) light.

Consumers should also understand that “purified” bottled water that is made by using water from a public water system is not “just tap water in a bottle.” Once the tap water enters the bottled water plant, several processes are employed to ensure that it meets FDA’s “purified water” standard. Bottled water companies use processes such as deionization and reverse osmosis. If it meets FDA standards in this way, it can be labeled “purified water.” (Bottled “spring water,” by contrast, must come from a spring.)

For a humorous look at tap water tasting, watch this video.