How Common is Water Contamination In The USA?

Every day an average American drinks one or two liters of water. For most of America, tap water is relatively clean, often fulfilling the safety levels set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

While many water processing facilities closely abide by the EPA standards, there have been instances where these standards have not been met, exposing many Americans to unsafe drinking water.

How Prevalent Is the Water Contamination Problem

Flint, Michigan, is one of the most known areas with a big water quality problem. However, water quality problems are not limited to Flint. According to a recent study by PNAS, 9-45 million Americans get tap water from a source that is not compliant with the Safe Water Drinking Act every year.

People living in rural American and low-income areas are most at risk of drinking contaminated water. Private wells are also a significant concern since the EPA does not regulate them.

According to a recent study on water quality from privately owned wells, 20 percent of the water from these sources was contaminated.

Common Water Contaminants in the US

Fresh ground-level water accounts for 60 percent of all the water consumed in America, while underground aquifers account for 40 percent. Since 2019, the Environmental Working Group (EWG) has been running tests on water from a representative sample of all the water reaching American homesteads.

The study revealed that there are over 320 toxic substances in Americans drinking water systems, with some of these chemicals having the potential to cause severe health complications such as cancer, reproductive health complications, and impaired brain development in children.

Some of the most prevalent contaminants in America’s drinking water include:


Nitrates are chemicals used in making fertilizer but are also present in manure. When left unused by the plants, these chemicals get carried off into water bodies, making nitrates the most common contaminant in US waters. High levels of nitrates in water are especially harmful to children and are known to cause blue baby disease.


Arsenic contamination often results from hazardous waste from manufacturing industries that use or manufacture arsenic. It can also result from naturally occurring arsenic in rocks that come into contact with water.

Arsenic causes various health complications, including digestive system problems, skin diseases, and some types of skin cancer.

Microbes and Other Contaminants

Most of the organisms living in the water are harmless. But some organisms, such as E.coli and Legionella Pneumophila, can pose a severe health risk for water consumers. Luckily, most of these contaminants can’t survive the water treatment process.

Other common contaminants in America’s tap water include lead, PFASs, aluminum, fluoride, and byproducts of chlorine treatment.

Big Water Contamination Lawsuits

Over the years, individuals and other entities have filed water contamination lawsuits in America. One of the most prominent water contamination lawsuits was against DuPont, a West Virginia-based plastic manufacturing company, for water contamination resulting in health complications and the death of livestock in areas around the company.

The first class action lawsuit against DuPont settled at an undisclosed figure in 2005, and the second for $671 million in 2017.

Camp Lejeune water contamination is another major incident involving lawsuits against water processing plants. Between 1953 and 1987, the water at the camp had dangerous levels of cancer-causing substances, which resulted in many residents of camp Lejeune military base suffering cancers.

Initially, victims of camp Lejeune were unable to access compensation based on technicalities that ruled their claim time-barred. The passage of the Camp Lejeune Justice Act has renewed victims’ hope by amending the law to allow the victims to seek compensation for damages suffered.

Final Words

America ranks relatively low in terms of accessibility to clean water when compared to other first-world countries. Unfortunately, there is nothing much Americans can do to improve the water quality in their taps.

The only hope is that water processing companies and the EPA will work together to ensure Americans have the safest drinking water.