14 million Americans are drinking carcinogen-polluted tap water

By Melissa Locker

July 24, 2018

The people of Flint, Michigan, still don’t have clean drinking water, and now a new report shows they aren’t alone.

The drinking water of some 14 million Americans is contaminated with a cancer-causing industrial solvent called Trichloroethylene, or TCE, according to a new EWG analysis of tests from public utilities nationwide. EWG’s Tap Water Database, which aggregates test results from utilities nationwide, shows that in about half of the systems it monitors, average annual levels of TCE were above what some health authorities say is safe for infants and developing fetuses.

More than 400 of the government’s Superfund sites have TCE contamination that can spread into groundwater and threaten drinking water supplies. Drinking TCE-contaminated water has been linked to birth defects, hormone disruption, increased risk of cancer, and more. The EPA’s legal limit for TCE in drinking water is 5 parts per billion. That limit was set back in 1987, and researchers believe TCE could be harmful at much lower levels.

TCE pollution is not new. In fact, in 1995, it was made famous thanks to Jonathan Harr’s nonfiction best-seller A Civil Action, which not only won the National Book Award, but also got John Travolta to star in the film version of it. That book (and film) followed a 1980s case of TCE pollution in Massachusetts that may have caused leukemia in children exposed to the toxic chemical in their drinking supply. Even with the case, and Travolta’s star power, TCE pollution hasn’t been a sexy hot-button issue for years. That could—and should—all change.

Read the EWG’s report for more information.