"Congress, We Have A Problem"

Earth Day 1996

April 1, 1996

"Congress, We Have A Problem": Dirtier Tap Water

Most congressional offices have bottled water delivered at taxpayers' expense. If the 104th Congress has its way, America will soon be a nation of bottled water drinkers.

Draft legislation circulated by the Commerce Committee Chairman Thomas Bliley of Virginia would gut scores of provisions in the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The draft legislation -- which is the main legislative vehicle for drinking water reform in the House -- would weaken the law's basic health standard, delay health standards for highly hazardous contaminants, and reduce the public's right to know about health threats from contaminated drinking water. To make matters worse, the 1995 House and Senate Budgets made dramatic cuts in funding for EPA's drinking water program.

This is no time to weaken laws that keep tap water safe. Already, 50 million Americans each year turn on the tap and drink water that fails at least one federal health standard. In the 1993-1994 reporting period, 11.6 million people drank water containing unsafe levels of fecal bacteria, 22.8 million drink from systems that failed basic safety standards for bacteria, parasites, and microorganisms, 1.7 million drank water that was excessively radioactive, and one million drank water with illegal levels of toxic chemical contamination.

According to scientists with the Centers for Disease Control, approximately one million people each year get sick from drinking unsafe tap water, and approximately one thousand of these people die. Chloroform and other byproducts of chlorination in tap water cause 10,000 cases of urinary bladder and rectal cancer each year.

How it Hurts America

  • The Safe Drinking Water Act has helped thousands of communities including New York City (dangerous bacteria), Chicago (lead), Fort Wayne (pesticides), and Tucson (radioactive tap water) identify or solve a variety of drinking water problems. The draft House reform proposal would weaken the Safe Drinking Water Act, at the same time that Congress has attempted to dramatically cut EPA's budget for enforcement and implementing the law.
  • Over 14 million Americans in hundreds of communities drink tap water contaminated with cancer-causing weed killers, and at least 67 different toxic pesticides have been found in the country's tap water sources. The main House proposal for drinking water legislation would weaken standards and allow even more toxic pesticides and chemicals into the nation's tap water -- while making it more difficult for concerned citizens to receive information about health threats from unsafe drinking water.
  • In 1993 and 1994, over 33 million Americans drank tap water that failed to meet EPA's basic health standards for bacteria, toxic chemicals, fecal matter (E. coli), and other dangerous microbes. The House of Representatives would have cut over $700 million in low interest loans to help cities and towns upgrade drinking water plants.
  • In 1993 and 1994, over ten million Americans in 2,551 communities drank tap water with lead contamination that exceeded the EPA Action Level. The draft House reform of the Safe Drinking Water Act would render a ban on the use of lead in water pipes unenforceable.