Report reveals drinking water is contaminated ‘in the nation’s food basket’

A child drinks from a water glass.

Johnny McClung / Unsplash

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) works on several different levels to educate people about safe drinking water. The EWG tap water database allows people across the US to check the quality of their tap water. And EWG investigations into water contamination reveals that increased nitrate contamination in drinking water often corresponds to the likelihood of that water flowing to a Latino community.

Nitrates are potential toxins that usually come from farm runoff. Exceeding the legal limit can increase the risk of diseases and cancers. In California, at least 5.25 million people living in majority-Latino communities have tap water with nitrate levels that reach or exceed the federal limit. These levels are particularly likely to be high in the San Joaquin Valley, home to the top US agricultural producers — and the workers who grow and harvest the nation’s food.

People are drinking water contaminated by the very farms that employ them.”

“The more nitrate that contaminates a California tap water system, the more likely it is that the system is located in a majority-Latino census block group, particularly in the San Joaquin Valley,” said remarks senior economic analyst Anne Schechinger in the EWG report. “Because the vast majority of the Valley’s essential farmworkers are also Latino, this means that in the nation’s food basket, many people are drinking water contaminated by the very farms that employ them.”

Environmental justice leaders like Cesar Aguirre from the Central California Environmental Justice Alliance look at contaminated drinking water as part of, “a practice that has put frontline communities in danger.” And Bruce Goldstein, president of Farmworker Justice, points out that this is just one of the dangers that the people who feed the US regularly endure. “Farmworkers confront occupational hazards from pesticide exposure, Covid-19 and wildfires, as well as low wages and labor abuses.” Farmworker Justice is a nonprofit that advocates for migrant and seasonal farmworkers. “As essential workers in our food system and as human beings contributing to our communities, farmworkers and their children should not have to drink water polluted with farm chemicals.”

Can we afford cleaner water? Can we afford not to have clean water?

Water drips from a tap.

Luis Tosta / Unsplash

Removing nitrates and other toxins from California’s tap water supply is a big job, and the novel coronavirus has put the work on hold. The state’s 2019 Safe and Affordable Drinking Water Fund earmarked $130 million a year for the next decade for drinking water infrastructure. Now, however, because of the economic downturn from the pandemic, that money has not been released.

This safe water project for the people who grow America’s food is just one of the many government funds that are idling — or disappearing — as US residents wait to see what the next federal pandemic response might be. Programs supporting people’s health need to be on firmer footing so they can’t be traded away in an emergency.

Meanwhile, nitrates are just one of the toxins that can be found in tap water. The EWG tap water database is an interactive web site where people over the US can check the quality of their tap water. The EWG tap water database also teaches you about filtering your own water, and who to contact about the quality of your local water supply.

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