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New report reveals cocktail of contaminants in drinking water

Scientists want stricter limits on many chemicals unregulated by the federal government

MAINE, USA — What's in your water? A new report by a national group of scientists found that millions of people across Maine and the United States may be drinking water that includes an invisible cocktail of toxic chemicals. 

While the state's nearly 400 water utilities comply with federal health-based standards, these experts say that doesn't necessarily mean your drinking water is safe.

Tasha Stoiber is a scientist with the Environmental Working Group, a national nonprofit which just updated its Tap Water Database Report. All it takes is putting in your ZIP code and the reports list contaminants that are in your local water utility.

"You can find out what contaminants are in your drinking water. And the health concerns," Stoiber said.

Although the majority of Maine's nearly 400 utilities meet the federal drinking water regulations set by the Environmental Protection Agency, Stoiber said some of the chemicals found in our state's drinking water are hundreds of times higher than what's healthy. Consumers can also see safety guidelines developed by EWG scientists about the adverse health effects associated with those contaminants. 

"How much is the contaminant away from that limit and what would my health concerns be—and for a lot of these contaminants we don't have limits and adequate monitoring and testing," Stoiber said.

The report analyzed annual test reports from 2014 to 2019, from 50,000 water utilities across the country.   

More than half of the contaminants detected in the database have no federal limits, including industrial compounds known as PFAS. Earlier this year, Maine adopted drinking water standards for a sum of six different PFAS compounds. 

About 90 different contaminants, including lead, nitrates, and arsenic, are regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act, but the EPA hasn't added new compounds since 2000.

Half of Mainers rely on private wells for their drinking water, which is not covered by the report. Advocates believe water coming from unregulated sources should also be the focus of safety standards. 

Patrick MacRoy is the deputy director of Defend our Health, a nonprofit that works to eliminate toxic chemicals in food products and water.

"These residential wells almost have no oversight or requirements for any testing or monitoring," MacRoy said. 

Scientists recommend that consumers filter their water. Filters with carbon filters can remove most disinfection byproducts. Scientists also recommend leaving an open water pitcher in the refrigerator overnight so the byproducts can dissipate. 

For more information on EWG's Tap Water Database 2021 Update, click here. 

   

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