Troubled Water: The effect of water contamination on health is unknown
It’s unclear, however, how much contaminated water was consumed, whether public health officials correlated any health problems to the tainted water or whether people will have health problems down the road.
Health officials, from the federal level down to local authorities, also face budget constraints that can limit how they investigate, monitor, report and treat water contamination.
A News21 analysis of EPA data shows 63 million people were served by water systems that violated federal standards two or more times, sometimes for lead, copper, arsenic and cancer-causing poisons.
In 2016, when the EPA recognized the chemicals’ dangers and lowered acceptable PFOS levels by 65 percent, the city closed and later replaced the wells that were contaminating the water supply to all customers.
Researchers have linked the chemical to some cancers, high cholesterol and fetal development complications.
In another case, Indian River County Utilities, with about 109,286 customers, reported E. coli in the water in August 2015, according to the EPA and DEP.
There is no acceptable level for E. coli contamination.
But some of the contaminants show up in the water because people put them there.
That means state health officials don’t test or report on many contaminants that sicken people across the U.S. “I think health organizations declaring water as safe to drink is a bit reckless,” said Bowcock, the water treatment expert.
"It would be far easier and far less costly … if you put the burden on the sources of the chemicals — chemical agriculture and industrial chemical sources — that discharge their chemicals into water sources," Walker said.