EPA Urged to Close Dirty Water Public Notice Loopholes
Schools, Day-Care, Nursing Homes Lack Warning on Unsafe Drinking Water
Washington, DC — When schoolchildren, the infirm, and the disabled are exposed to dangerously contaminated drinking water, parents and guardians should be notified, according to a rulemaking petition filed today by Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and a coalition of groups. The petition presses the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to close this public health gap.
EPA’s current public notice regulations do not require public water systems or facilities like schools and nursing homes to provide notice to parents or those with power of attorney for disabled adults. Instead, the EPA merely requires public water systems to inform those “served by the water system.”
EPA figures list nearly 8,000 schools and daycare centers with stand-alone public water systems serving more than 3 million people, mostly minors, that have incurred more than 200,000 violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act during their histories as public water systems. In those instances, only California requires public notice to the parents or guardian of any minors or those with power of attorney for an incapacitated adult.
“This is the type of common-sense safeguard that even an anti-regulatory Trump EPA should embrace,” stated PEER Staff Counsel Adam Carlesco, noting that the EPA Administrator has called for a new strategy “to eradicate” lead poisoning from drinking water. “Children, the elderly, and ill are the very people most vulnerable to harm from exposure to polluted drinking water.”
The PEER petition points to two cases that underline the need for expanded mandatory notice:
- In 2016, the Columbus Department of Public Utilities experienced an acute nitrate exceedance. Nitrate can prove fatal to infants and threaten fetal and maternal health of pregnant women. Yet, direct notification was limited to only the 21 most recently connected customers out of hundreds of thousands affected; and
- In 2009, a Missouri Department of Natural Resources employee was suspended after she ordered a school to provide notice to parents of multiple maximum contaminant level violations including one for E. coli bacteria. Her suspension letter stated that “your supervisor had asked you not to include notification of parents as an option.”
EPA regulations require notice only to customers for serious Safe Drinking Water Act violations by community water systems. Non-community water systems serving non-permanent populations, such as camps or parks, are only required to post notices in locations in the distribution system, regardless of whether or not those notices are actually seen by consumers, much less parents.
“EPA has been aware of this failure in its drinking water public notice rule since 1993 but has yet to take any action,” added Carlesco. “It is apparent that absent a rule, thousands of our most vulnerable will remain unaware that they are being exposed to unsafe levels of contamination.”
Petition co-signatories include Food & Water Watch, America Unites for Kids, and The National Association of Injured & Disabled Workers.