How contaminated is your drinking water? Find out

An environmental activist group is making it easier for consumers to know what contaminants are in local drinking water, and suggesting ways to reduce health risks.

“Legal doesn’t necessarily equal safe,” said Sydney Evans, an analyst with The Environmental Working Group, which describes itself as a “nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to protecting human health and the environment.”

The activist group maintains the Environmental Protection Agency’s “Safe Drinking Water Act,” which sets legal standards for drinking water quality, doesn’t go far enough to limit contaminants present in water that is determined safe.

“Getting a passing grade from the federal government does not mean the water is going to meet the latest health guidelines,” Evans said.

In its 2019 tap water database, users can enter a ZIP code and learn which contaminants are in local water systems. The information is provided by the water companies.

The contaminants in water systems are often based upon the source of the drinking water, Evans said.

“In large surface water systems, you see disinfection byproducts from disinfectants combining with other contaminants,” said Evans.

Outside of urban centers, on the other hand, “There are nitrates when you get into more rural communities, from runoff from organic matter on farms,” she said.

The searchable guide shows how much of the contaminant is in each particular water system, along with legal limits, and the EWG’s health guide guideline.

This year, the list provides information about how people can deal with risky chemicals.

“There is a filter guide built in at the bottom, showing specifically which contaminants are in your water, and which kind of filters can filter them out,” Evans said.

Neal Augenstein

Neal Augenstein has been a reporter at WTOP since 1997. Through the years, Neal has covered many of the crimes and trials that have gripped the region. Neal's been pleased to receive awards over the years for hard news, feature reporting, use of sound and sports.

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