Quantcast

'Absolutely Unconscionable': Trump EPA Refuses to Limit Toxic Chemicals Contaminating Drinking Water

Health + Wellness
Under the Trump administration, the EPA will decline to regulate a pair of toxic chemicals linked to various forms of cancer. EPA

By Jessica Corbett

In a decision deemed by critics unsurprising but also "absolutely unconscionable," the Trump administration's U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reportedly plans to refrain from regulating a pair of toxic chemicals linked to kidney and testicular cancer, even though they are contaminating millions of Americans' drinking water.

Sources familiar with an unreleased draft plan approved last month by acting EPA Administrator Andrew Wheeler told Politico that the chemicals PFOA and PFOS will remain unregulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act, meaning that "utilities will face no federal requirements for testing for and removing the chemicals from drinking water supplies, although several states have pursued or are pursuing their own limits."


The chemicals "have been used for decades in products such as Teflon-coated cookware and military firefighting foam, and are present in the bloodstreams of an estimated 98 percent of Americans," Politico pointed out. That means, given that they have "contaminated groundwater near hundreds of military bases and chemical plants," any intensive regulation of them would force companies such as 3M as well as the Defense Department to spend billions of dollars on cleanup efforts.

"If these sources are right, the EPA is essentially telling the more than 110 million Americans whose water is likely contaminated with PFAS: 'Drink up, folks,'" warned Environmental Working Group senior scientist David Andrews, Ph.D. "The most efficient and equitable way to remove these chemicals from the nation's drinking water supply is to use the agency's authority to set legal limits ... It's a national problem, and it needs a national solution."

"It is absolutely unconscionable for the Trump administration to refuse to even start the process of setting a limit on these poisonous chemicals," declared Erik Olson of the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). "Communities around the country need swift, meaningful action from the government. Punting responsibility to the private sector and states is a total abdication of EPA's role in protecting the American people."

"Sadly, it's no surprise the Trump administration is failing to protect Americans from these dangerous chemicals," Food & Water Watch executive director Wenonah Hauter said in a statement.

"It's time for state governments and Congress to step up, since it's obvious we can't rely on Andrew Wheeler and Trump's EPA to protect us from dangerous chemicals in our drinking water," she added, calling on federal lawmakers to enact the Water Accountability, Transparency, Equity, and Reliability (WATER) Act.

"More than ever, we need strong federal legislation to protect drinking water," Hauter said. The WATER Act "would upgrade our aging infrastructure and help keep vital water systems under local public control. But it would also provide funding to help keep drinking water safe from toxins like PFOA and PFOS, in spite of this administration's failure to act."

The news out of the EPA on Monday came after the agency and White House blocked the release of a federal study on PFOA and PFOS last year over concerns that it would produce a "public relations nightmare." The move was widely condemned by public health experts, reporters, and American lawmakers, with critics charging that then-EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt was "more worried about journalists than poisoning millions of Americans."

Noting that decision and, more broadly, the federal government's failures to protect the American public from industry pollution during the Trump era, Hauter concluded, "This administration prioritizes corporate profits over public safety, pure and simple."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Common Dreams.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Protestors marched outside the Prudential Center in Newark, New Jersey on Monday, August 26, during the MTV Video and Music Awards to bring attention to the water crisis currently gripping the city. Karla Ann Cote / NurPhoto / Getty Images

By Will Sarni

It is far too easy to view scarcity and poor quality of water as issues solely affecting emerging economies. While the images of women and children fetching water in Africa and a lack of access to water in India are deeply disturbing, this is not the complete picture.

The city of Flint, Michigan, where dangerous levels of pollutants contaminated the municipal water supply, is a case in point — as is, more recently, the city of Newark, New Jersey.

The Past is No Longer a Guide to the Future

We get ever closer to "day zeros" — the point at when municipal water supplies are switched off — and tragedies such as Flint. These are not isolated stories. Instead they are becoming routine, and the public sector and civil society are scrambling to address them. We are seeing "day zeros" in South Africa, India, Australia and elsewhere, and we are now detecting lead contamination in drinking water in cities across the U.S.

"Day zero" is the result of water planning by looking in the rear-view mirror. The past is no longer a guide to the future; water demand has outstripped supplies because we are tied to business-as-usual planning practices and water prices, and this goes hand-in-hand with the inability of the public sector to factor the impacts of climate change into long-term water planning. Lead in drinking water is the result of lead pipe service lines that have not been replaced and in many cases only recently identified by utilities, governments and customers. An estimated 22 million people in the US are potentially using lead water service lines. This aging infrastructure won't repair or replace itself.

One of the most troubling aspects of the global water crisis is that those least able to afford access to water are also the ones who pay a disproportionately high percentage of their income for it. A report by WaterAid revealed that a standard water bill in developed countries is as little as 0.1 percent of the income of someone earning the minimum wage, while in a country like Madagascar a person reliant on a tanker truck for their water supply would spend as much as 45 percent of their daily income on water to get just the recommended daily minimum supply. In Mozambique, families relying on black-market vendors will spend up to 100 times as much on water as those reached by government-subsidized water supplies.

Finally, we need to understand that the discussion of a projected gap between supply and demand is misleading. There is no gap, only poor choices around allocation. The wealthy will have access to water, and the poor will pay more for water of questionable quality. From Flint residents using bottled water and paying high water utility rates, to the poor in South Africa waiting in line for their allocation of water — inequity is everywhere.

Water Inequity Requires Global Action — Now.

These troubling scenarios beg the obvious question: What to do? We do know that ongoing reports on the 'water crisis' are not going to catalyze action to address water scarcity, poor quality, access and affordability. Ensuring the human right to water feels distant at times.

We need to mobilize an ecosystem of stakeholders to be fully engaged in developing and scaling solutions. The public sector, private sector, NGOs, entrepreneurs, investors, academics and civil society must all be engaged in solving water scarcity and quality problems. Each stakeholder brings unique skills, scale and speed of impact (for example, entrepreneurs are fast but lack scale, while conversely the public sector is slow but has scale).

We also urgently need to change how we talk about water. We consistently talk about droughts happening across the globe — but what we are really dealing with is an overallocation of water due to business-as-usual practices and the impacts of climate change.

We need to democratize access to water data and actionable information. Imagine providing anyone with a smartphone the ability to know, on a real-time basis, the quality of their drinking water and actions to secure safe water. Putting this information in the hands of civil society instead or solely relying on centralized regulatory agencies and utilities will change public policies.

Will Sarni is the founder and CEO of Water Foundry.

Note: This post also appears on the World Economic Forum.

Reposted with permission from our media associate Circle of Blue.

Pexels
  • Mice exposed to nicotine-containing e-cigarette vapor developed lung cancer within a year.
  • More research is needed to know what this means for people who vape.
  • Other research has shown that vaping can cause damage to lung tissue.

A new study found that long-term exposure to nicotine-containing e-cigarette vapor increases the risk of cancer in mice.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Demonstrators with The Animal Welfare Institute hold a rally to save the vaquita, the world's smallest and most endangered porpoise, outside the Mexican Embassy in DC on July 5, 2018. SAUL LOEB / AFP / Getty Images

By John R. Platt

Six months: That's how much time Mexico now has to report on its progress to save the critically endangered vaquita porpoise (Phocoena sinus) from extinction.

Read More Show Less
Pexels

It may seem innocuous to flush a Q-tip down the toilet, but those bits of plastic have been washing up on beaches and pose a threat to the birds, turtles and marine life that call those beaches home. The scourge of plastic "nurdles," as they are called, has pushed Scotland to implement a complete ban on the sale and manufacture of plastic-stemmed cotton swabs, as the BBC reported.

Read More Show Less
Air conditioners, like these in a residential and restaurant area of Singapore city, could put a massive strain on electricity grids during more intense heatwaves. Taro Hama @ e-kamakura / Moment / Getty Images

By Tim Radford

Scientists in the U.S. have added a new dimension to the growing hazard of extreme heat. As global average temperatures rise, so do the frequency, duration and intensity of heatwaves.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Actress Jane Fonda is arrested on the East Front of the U.S. Capitol in Washington, DC on Oct. 11. Marvin Joseph / The Washington Post via Getty Images

Oscar-award winning actress and long-time political activist Jane Fonda was arrested on the steps of Capitol Hill in Washington, DC on Friday for peacefully protesting the U.S. government's inaction in combating the climate crisis, according to the AP.

Read More Show Less
sam thomas / iStock / Getty Images Plus

By Caroline Hickman

I'm up late at night worrying that my baby brothers may die from global warming and other threats to humanity – please can you put my mind at rest? – Sophie, aged 17, East Sussex, UK

Read More Show Less
Sheriff officials work the scene at Villa Calimesa Mobile Home Park in Calimesa on Oct. 13. Jennifer Cappuccio Maher / MediaNews Group / Inland Valley Daily Bulletin / Getty Images

Three people have died in incidents related to two major wildfires in Southern California, The Los Angeles Times Reported Sunday.

Read More Show Less