The drought in California continues to worsen, and the lead crisis in Flint shows no signs of slowing down as local authorities debate the appropriate course of action. Clean water, once taken for granted in the United States, is now seemingly harder to find. As more and more regions are affected by contaminations and more and more boil alerts are issued, it's clear that the water quality in our country is in serious trouble. Not to mention, 85% of homes across the country are also impacted by hard water.
There are multiple reasons why water contamination can occur where you live - in many states the water infrastructure hasn't been replaced in over decades. Infrastructure isn't a "hot topic" among politicians, and campaigning under a promise of repaired infrastructure doesn't seem to win votes. As water quality concerns surface across America, citizens are slowly beginning to realize that water crises like those in Flint aren't isolated events, but symptoms of a larger problem, and thus, taking matters into their own hands to improve the water quality in their own homes.
Every water system is unique - the possible issues with your local water system can vary greatly depending on where you live. What contaminants should you be wary of, and what problems plague your home state? The above infographic highlights the top three risks to the water quality in each state. Use the interactive map and glossary below to learn what water woes are prevalent where you live.
- Aging Infrastructure: The U.S. received a "D" in the drinking-water category in the American Society for Civil Engineers' 2013 Report Card for America's Infrastructure. Aging pipes and wastewater infrastructure are more prone to water main breaks and contamination and can put residents at risk of water-borne pathogens and boil water alerts.
- Arsenic: An element that can contaminate water due to erosion of natural deposits, industrial emissions, and agricultural pollution. Arsenic is a known carcinogen with high levels posing an increased risk of cancer.
- Chlorine Byproducts: Byproducts form when chlorine, chloramines, and other disinfectants react in water. Eye, skin, and respiratory irritation, and an increased risk of cancer can result from consumption and exposure. Byproducts include Bromodichloromethane, Dibromochloromethane, Chloroform, Bromoform, and Dichloroacetic acid.
- Flooding: Major flooding can disrupt water treatment and sewage systems, leading to water contamination and water-borne illnesses.
- Fluoride: In each of the states listed, at least 85% of the population receives fluoridated water from public water systems. Certain studies have associated high fluoride levels in drinking water with dental fluorosis, a lower IQ in children, and potentially osteosarcoma - a type of bone cancer.
- Groundwater Depletion: A drastic reduction in water levels in fresh groundwater aquifers, which are typically non-renewable resources. Agricultural irrigation and severe droughts in the U.S. are largely to blame for groundwater depletion.
- HAAs: Total Haloacetic acids refers to the sum of concentrations of five related disinfection byproducts in water. Surface water pollution results in greater quantities of HAAs in drinking water, and long-term exposure can increase the risk of cancer and developmental defects, and can induce mutations and DNA damage.
- Hard Water: Water that is high in dissolved minerals, especially calcium and magnesium. Hard water can leave lime scale deposits on dishes and home surfaces and cause buildup that decreases the lifespan of plumbing and appliances.
- Lead: A metal that typically leaches into water from corroding lead pipes and plumbing fixtures as was the case in Flint, MI. Lead is highly toxic to nearly every system in the body and has been linked to neurobehavioral development problems in children.
- Manganese: A naturally occurring element released from mineral deposits in rocks and soil. Manganese can col col-1of2lect in plumbing lines, staining fabrics and causing sediment and turbidity in tap water.
- Mercury: Coal power plants are the largest source of U.S. mercury pollution. These mercury emissions linger in the atmosphere and enter waterways via rain and snow where concentrated mercury can harm fish and those who eat fish. Mercury is highly toxic and can affect the nervous, digestive, immune, and respiratory systems. Pregnant women and infants in utero are particularly susceptible to developmental issues caused by mercury exposure. The EPA has instituted Mercury and Air Toxics standards (MATs) with the goal of dramatically reducing mercury and toxic air emissions from power plants.
- Nitrates: Common sources of nitrates include fertilizers, animal waste, septic systems, and industrial waste. Wells tend to be more vulnerable to nitrates due to their proximity to contaminant sources. Infants are most susceptible to the health effects of nitrate contamination, which can interfere with the child's ability to carry oxygen and cause methemoglobinemia - or "blue baby syndrome."
- Saltwater Intrusion: This occurs when groundwater pumping draws coastal saltwater into freshwater aquifers, which can contaminate key drinking water sources.
- TTHMs: Total Trihalomethanes refers to the sum of four disinfection byproducts in water. Exposure to TTHMs in drinking water has been linked to liver, kidney, and central nervous system problems as well as DNA damage and an increased risk of cancer.
- Uranium: A radioactive element commonly found in rocks. In this case, Uranium may also refer to Radium-228 and Radium-226 - typically found around uranium deposits - or Radon, a radioactive gas formed by the decay of uranium and radium. Uranium is a known carcinogen and may cause kidney damage and respiratory damage.
- Water Scarcity: Refers to drought conditions ranging from severe to exceptional drought. Within all of the states listed, at least 25% of the state's land area is experiencing drought, which can lead to agricultural losses, wildfires, and severely diminished freshwater supplies.