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The revelations of the drinking water crisis in the city of Flint, Michigan in the United States shocked the world in 2014. But new data, legislation and forms of pollution mean that the water crisis runs much deeper than those findings.
The findings of Flint and recent, widespread reports on water shortages in other states like California and New Mexico due to water pollution have been alarming.
But rural America is really feeling the pinch of pollutants in aquifers, with the regulation of waste and pollutants and ageing infrastructure leaving many in small-town America without access to clean water.
Groundwater reliance is leaving small-town America with no clean water
Groundwater is crucial for rural communities, with about 40 per cent of United States residents relying on it for drinking water and another 39 per cent requiring it for agricultural purposes, according to the United States Geological Survey.
And a combination of lead from corroding infrastructure and pollutants like nitrates from farming operations are compromising these groundwater sources.
Madison Condon is a fellow at New York University School of Law and she highlighted the dangers in her report Rural America’s Drinking Water Crisis.
“Water supplies in farming communities often have harmfully high levels of nitrates, which seep into the groundwater from fertilizer and manure,” she said.
“Yet, 85 per cent of the communities with nitrate violations have no treatment systems for removing the chemical.
“The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that updating rural America’s water infrastructure … would require $190 billion of investment in the coming decades.
“Where this funding will come from has been left unanswered.”
Legislation rollback means more pollution could be tipped into United States waterways
The United States Government introduced legislation called the Waters of the United States rule in 2015 that aimed at reducing fossil-fuel pollution from coal-fired power plants as well as cars and methane emissions.
In November, 2019, the Government repealed this legislation which means that these power plants and other polluters no longer require a permit to dump hazardous waste into waterways.
Farmers have welcomed the repeal after many railed against the Government telling them what they could do on their own properties. But environmental groups have warned this repeal could lead to more pollution hitting rural American groundwater supplies.
The rise of PFAS and PFOA chemicals in America drinking water
Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctanesulfonic acid (PFAS) are two large-scale pollutants impacting United States waterways.
These dangerous chemicals are dubbed “forever chemicals” because of their ability to persist in the environment and resistance to water treatment – even the latest technologies.
According to major news outlet Bloomberg, waste from over 180 industrial estates across 39 states is polluting American waterways with PFAS.
And these chemicals can remain present in groundwater supplies in rural America for as long as 15 years.
This has led the charge from many water safety activists to call for greater government intervention.
“In the end, a massive influx of government funding is needed to make sure that millions of Americans are not left exposed to health-harming pollutants put in their drinking water by under-regulated industries,” Madison Condon said.