Several weeks ago, a new research study found that nearly 61.4 million Americans stopped drinking their tap water approximately 3 or 4 years ago. Regardless of the water in their house is contaminated or not, most U.S. citizens choose to avoid drinking it. But why is this happening?
It isn’t recent news that America has a major water crisis regarding its quality and pollution-free properties. Researchers have been studying this water-related environmental issue in the U.S. for some time. They found that the majority of people fear the water pollution issue most, as it remains unresolved.
The reason why this has become such a tremendous health risk is due to decades of pollution from farming, factories, or toxic industrial remains. Not only this but pipe and fixtures corrosion and deterioration can cause lead poisoning.
How has the U.S. ended up here?
Initially, water pipes were meant for protection against fire instead of drinking or bathing purposes. This means that a disinfection process was needed to adapt the water pipe structure for commercial and residential use. However, with this happening at the beginning of the 20th century, disinfecting and filtering weren’t safely done. As a consequence, people started getting ill with serious diseases such as cholera, as later studies discovered.
More specifically, research conducted in the 1970s found that chlorine, which was the most used type of disinfectant, could generate byproducts. The problem is that these byproducts were damaging enough to cause severe health issues linked to the liver or kidney, to the nervous system, or a higher chance of cancer. Seeing how these disinfectants were harmful and also useless in clearing the water from specific industrial-born contaminants, state officials needed to find another solution.
In 1974 the Congress passed a vital legislative action. The Safe Drinking Water Act was essential in enforcing health standards on various contaminants found in water, such as arsenic, the above-mentioned disinfectant byproducts, lead, pesticides, and so on. Besides this, the EPA has compiled a list of around 86,000 chemicals in the TSCA inventory. It isn’t unlikely for some of those to end up in the drinking water systems.
Years of water-related issues in America has caused its citizen to distrust the quality of their water heavily. The government’s response has been relatively limited, and more action is needed. In 2014, the Flint water crisis was a significant public health issue that caused many people to fall ill. Although residents of Flint, Michigan, started complaining about the quality of their water that was coming from the Flint River, the government ignored their worries and their call for action. Not only was the water tasting and smelling incredibly unpleasant, but it was contaminated with lead, as various research showed eventually.
The Flint situation showed that the water coming into people’s homes through old water systems might have more harmful chemicals than just calcium. For this reason, installing a professional water filter in your household can be a solution to the hard water that you see in your home, as they are able to remove a high number of contaminants. This is a way for U.S. citizens to make sure they aren’t drinking water rich in chemicals.
So, it isn’t unnatural for people to fear drinking their tap water, although it might not contain toxic chemicals, like lead. But when government officials neglected to combat water issues that could be harmful, people became skeptical and fearful. More recently, the new study conducted by anthropologist Sera Young and human biologist Asher Rosinger found that from 2017, more U.S. citizens – predominantly from Black and Hispanic communities – stopped drinking their tap water.
Unfortunately, it isn’t uncommon that communities of color are suffering environmental injustice, as they are mostly living in unfavorable neighborhoods. So, water quality is more likely to be below EPA’s regulations. Going back to the Flint water crisis, 45% of the city’s population has poor living situations, and it mainly consists of African-Americans.
Systematic racism is predominant, as data from EPA research shows. More specifically, analysis from 2016 to 2019 shows that violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act is more likely to happen among communities of color. Poor quality water is causing adults to turn to bottled water and children to sugary drinks. Besides being more expensive, high-calorie drinks can still cause health problems. For instance, the higher risk of obesity or cavities that comes from drinking sugary beverages affects children in the long term.
The gap between Americans who aren’t drinking tap water and those who do is significant. In contrast with 28% of white U.S. citizens, the percentage of Black and Hispanic Americans who only drink bottled water is much higher – 55% and 44%, respectively. The solution to this long-lasting issue of environmental injustice needs to be combated through public policy.
Rebuilding people’s trust
A few months ago, a WATER Act was introduced by two Democratic Representatives committed to fixing the national water quality issue. Besides, President Joe Biden promised to improve the entire water system infrastructure and tackle environmental injustice for disadvantaged communities. These changes will also include getting rid of toxic chemicals and contaminants in water.
Such actions are crucial for building U.S. citizens’ trust. Not only that, but as this has been a huge public health issue, it is of the utmost importance to properly fix it. Having clean water is a fundamental human right, as it is indispensable for hygiene and hydration. Hence, everyone should have access to it, especially as not many people afford to invest in water filters at home.
For people to trust the water coming into their households, the government must seek support from community members. Past experiences, such as the Flint crisis, where officials were rightfully accused of not acting on a public health issue appropriately, have made U.S. citizens incredibly skeptical; and for a good reason. So, in order for Americans, and especially from communities within disadvantaged neighborhoods, to trust their water is safe, the government should rely on help from the members of the public.