Study Finds Pensacola Has The Nation’s Worst Water
December 13, 2009
Pensacola has the worst drinking water of any American city, according to the results of a national survey released Saturday.
In the study, there were 21 chemicals found in Pensacola’s water that exceeded health guidelines, including radium, lead, bezene and carbon tetracholride.
In an unprecedented analysis of 20 million tap water quality tests performed by water utilities between 2004 and 2009, Environmental Working Group (EWG) found that water suppliers detected a total of 316 contaminants in water delivered to the public. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has set enforceable standards for only 114 of these pollutants.
Another 202 chemicals with no mandatory safety standards were found in water supplied to approximately 132 million people in 9,454 communities across the country. These “unregulated” chemicals include the toxic rocket fuel component perchlorate, the industrial solvent acetone, the weed killer metolachlor, the refrigerant Freon and radon, a highly radioactive gas.
Pensacola’s worst water ranking was among 100 of the nation’s largest water systems in cities over 250,000 in population. In North Escambia, water systems are operated by small independent water companies such as Walnut Hill Water Works, Molino Utilities, Central Water Works, Bratt-Davisville Water System and the Town of Century. These smaller water systems were not part of the worst water results. Only the water provided by the Emerald Coast Utilities Authority (ECUA) in the Pensacola metro area was part of the water study. The smaller North Escambia water systems were not included in the study by EWG.
“The nation’s tap water has been compromised by weak federal safeguards and pitiful protection of drinking water supplies,” said Jane Houlihan, Senior Vice President for Research at EWG.
“Utilities do the best job that they can treating a big problem with limited resources,” said Houlihan, “but we must do better. It is not uncommon for people to drink tap water laced with 20 or 30 chemical contaminants. This water may be legal, but it raises serious health concerns. People expect better water than that, and they deserve it.”
Federal law does not require tap water to be safe for long-term consumption; the long-term risks of cancer and other health threats are balanced against the cost and feasibility of purification. As a result, health officials acknowledge that legally binding contamination limits typically allow exposure to levels of pollutants that present real health risks. For hundreds of other contaminants there are no legal limits at all — any amount is legal.
Some communities have made the commitment to deliver safer water, with dramatic results. Boston had a serious contamination problem that peaked in 2004-2005. After installing a new filtration system and changing treatment techniques, the regional water system now delivers some of the highest-rated big city water in the country. It has also committed to a well-protected reservoir system, a key to preserving the long-term effectiveness of the new techniques.
Tap water contaminants come from a wide variety of sources. EWG’s analysis revealed 97 agricultural pollutants, including pesticides and chemicals from fertilizer- and manure-laden runoff; 205 industrial chemicals linked to factory discharges and consumer products; 86 contaminants that originate in polluted runoff and wastewater treatment plants; and 42 byproducts of water treatment processes or pollutants that leach from pipes and storage tanks.
“In most U.S. households, pouring a glass of tap water means exposing families to hundreds of distinct chemicals and pollutants, many of them completely unregulated,” said Houlihan.
Chemicals detected in Pensacola’s water supply from 2004 to 2008 were: Barium (total), Chromium (total), Cyanide, Mercury (total inorganic), Nitrate, Nitrite, Selenium (total), Trichlorofluoromethane, 1,2,4-Trichlorobenzene, cis-1,2-Dichloroethylene, 2,2-Dichloropropane, Monochloroacetic acid, Dibromoacetic acid, Chloroform, Xylenes (total), p-Dichlorobenzene, 1,1-Dichloroethylene, 1,1-Dichloroethane, 1,1,1,2-Tetrachloroethane, Monochlorobenzene (Chlorobenzene), Toluene, Ethylbenzene, Alpha particle activity (incl. radon & uranium), Combined Uranium (pCi/L), Cadmium (total), Lead (total), Di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate, Heptachlor epoxide, MTBE, Total haloacetic acids (HAAs), 1,2-Dibromo-3-chloropropane (DBCP), Bromoform, Bromodichloromethane, Dibromochloromethane, Total trihalomethanes (TTHMs), 1,2-Dichloroethane, Carbon tetrachloride, 1,2-Dichloropropane, Trichloroethylene, 1,1,2-Trichloroethane, Tetrachloroethylene, Benzene, Alpha particle activity (excl radon and uranium), Radium-226, Radium-228.
Pictured: The nation’s best and worst water systems in cities over 250,000 population, according to a study released Saturday by the Environmental Working Group.