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Unregulated drinking water chemicals

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08/04/2014 - Tap water supplied by the Detroit Water and Sewerage Department (DWSD) has been touted for decades as being some of the highest quality drinking water produced by any public utility in the country and required water quality reports by local communities regularly indicate drinking water that meets or exceeds federal standards.

But it's what isn't contained in annual water reports released to the public that may raise concerns.

A national analysis of drinking water utilities across the country conducted by the Environmental Working Group (EWG) tested water supplied to more than 250 million Americans in 45 states. While the report found that 92 percent of the public drinking water utilities surveyed are in compliance with federal drinking water standards, only 114 of the 316 contaminants identified in the analysis are required to be tested under federal law. That leaves more than 200 chemicals that aren't subject to any kind of government regulations or safety standards in our drinking water.

"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 of research at the EWG. "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."

Among the unregulated chemicals discovered over a five-year testing period were perchlorate, a toxic chemical that is used as a component to rocket fuel, which has been identified as a contaminant in tests conducted by the DWSD. Other contaminants identified in the national analysis included the industrial solvent acetone; metolachlor, which is used in weed killers; freon, which is used as a refrigerant; and radon, a highly radioactive gas. Other contaminants, such as chromium-6, which has been categorized by the EPA as a likely carcinogen, isn't specifically required to be tested, but is grouped together with the less toxic chromium-3 under total chromium standards.

The EWG report further states that the EPA and congress force water utilities to spend more than $4 billion a year to treat contaminated water, while a fraction of that is spent cleaning and protecting rivers and reservoirs.

"Utilities do the best that they can treating a big problem with limited resources," Houlihan said. "We must do better. It's 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."

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