A new report looks at the extent to which and where America's drinking water has been tainted. 
Contaminated drinking water
Credit: ANNE-CHRISTINE POUJOULAT / Staff / Getty Images

An extensive investigation from News21 (a reporting project run by college journalism students and recent graduates) called "Troubled Water" has found that in the past ten years, as many as 63 million Americans have been exposed to drinking water contaminated by industrial waste, pollution from farms, and rusty, deteriorating pipes at water distribution centers. The organization examined around 680,000 violations of the Environmental Protection Agency before coming to their conclusions.

Problems found with drinking water usually took anywhere from two to five years to fix. Meanwhile, according to reports stored in the EPA’s Safe Drinking Water Information System, issues that have been languishing for a decade have only recently been resolved, and in some cases, contaminated water is still being circulated.

Chemicals found in drinking water include arsenic—naturally occurring in rock but that failed to be filtered out—chemicals from nearby factories, and fecal matters from farms. Rotting or otherwise decrepit pipes leave distribution systems vulnerable to further contamination.

New York City, for instance, failed to pass checks for EPA water safety standards two times in the past decade, one of which was for failing to build a cover over one the city’s water reservoirs.

However, the report found that rural towns or those that are home to minorities are the most at risk for circulating contaminated drinking water, either because residents can't afford the tools used to filter water, or because the town itself lacks the resources to keep the water clean. Texas, Oklahoma, and California were the top states for EPA water quality regulation violations. But News21 found that some water systems in West Virginia date back to the Civil War.

“Sometimes it’s orange, sometimes it’s green, sometimes it’s brown,” Melissa Regeon, a resident of Texas, told News21, of her water.

Given the extensive damage to these systems, the EPA estimates that it will take at least $348 billion in the next several decades to upgrade the pipes, and ensure that our drinking water stays clean. However, the agency still stands by the effectiveness of their regulations.

“America’s drinking water remains among the safest in the world and protecting drinking water is EPA’s top priority,” an agency spokesperson said in a statement to News21. “More than 90 percent of the country’s drinking water systems meet all of EPA’s health-based drinking water standards.”