Unreported, incomplete safety violations lead to questions about safety of drinking water
Washington, D.C. (July 19, 2011) – Three top House Democrats today released a report indicating that audits of many states show that drinking water violations have been grossly under-reported or misreported to the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), calling into question the current safety status of drinking water in communities across America. The report was conducted by the Government Accountability Office (GAO) and released by Reps. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), Edward J. Markey (D-Mass.), and John D. Dingell (D-Mich.) of the Energy and Commerce Committee.
Under the main federal law that protects drinking water, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), most states collect and review data from community water systems, determine if violations have occurred, take enforcement action when necessary and report all violations and actions to EPA. EPA then uses this data to identify water systems that have problems meeting the health standards for drinking water, so that enforcement efforts can be directed towards those systems with the most significant issues.
However, using results of audits EPA conducted in 2007 and 2009, GAO found that states underreported or misreported hundreds of violations of drinking water standards. In 2007, an audit of fourteen states (Ark., Ariz., Ga., Ill., Kan., Md., Minn., N.D., Nev., R.I., S.C., Utah, Va., Wash.), as well as Puerto Rico, the Navajo Nation, and 3 EPA Regions, indicated that an estimated 543 health-based drinking water violations (20 percent of the total) that should have been reported to the EPA either went unreported or were inaccurately reported.
In 2009, an audit of fourteen states (Calif., Conn., Del., Fla., Hawaii, Ind., Mich., N.C., Neb., N.J., N.M., Ore., Tenn., Vt.) indicated that an estimated 778 health-based drinking water violations (26 percent of the total) that should have been reported to the EPA either went unreported or were inaccurately reported.
Because of the unreliable or incomplete data, the report says that the EPA’s ability to identify water systems with the most serious problems complying with drinking water safety standards is compromised.
“GAO found that states are failing to report important safety information from EPA," said Rep. Waxman, Ranking Member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. “Rather than slashing funding for this critical public health resource, Congress should be moving legislation to improve the reporting and policing of drinking water violations.”
“They say that if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it – but when it comes to drinking water, it turns out that all too often, EPA has no idea whether it’s broke,” said Rep. Markey, Ranking Member of the Natural Resources Committee and a senior member of the Energy and Commerce Committee. “To add to the problem, House Republicans have just proposed to cut $134 million dollars from the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund Program, which provides money to states and public water systems to comply with the law and increase public health protection.”
“In order to truly improve our water quality and help our communities budget for water quality infrastructure, we must be able to accurately analyze the quality of our drinking water systems,” said Rep. Dingell. “Fighting to protect our water quality is a responsibility to the American people that I take very seriously. Unfortunately, it is clear that EPA needs to improve their data collection efforts in relation to our drinking water systems in order to hold accountable those states that are not taking their public health responsibilities seriously enough.”
The GAO report, which can be found HERE , identified significant problems with the manner in which states collect and report this data to EPA, including:
Last week, Reps. Waxman and Markey along with Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) released another report by the GAO related to EPA’s implementation of the SDWA that found that EPA has not made a determination to regulate any new drinking water contaminants, with one recent exception, since 1996. That report revealed that during the Bush administration an unusual process was used to justify a decision to not regulate the chemical perchlorate in drinking water. The report also found “systemic limitations” in how EPA identifies new contaminants for regulation. That GAO report can be found HERE .