More than 4 million Americans live in places where contaminants in drinking water exceed a legal limit—and poor, rural areas are often more affected than wealthy, urban and suburban ones. Those are some of the key takeaways from a new database that the Environmental Working Group (EWG) released this week.
The database pulls about 30 million records from 2010 to 2015, mostly from state agencies. With the handy tool, you can enter your ZIP code and get a report on the contaminants that flow from your tap.
Although EWG has not yet analyzed all the data it collected according to demographics, it did find some preliminary patterns. “We’re seeing a lot of problems in places that are more rural and lower income,” said Bill Walker, vice president and managing editor of EWG.
Walker emphasized that agriculture is one of the biggest pollutants of drinking water in the country and that, while pesticides and fertilizers are used in many places, toxic runoff from these pollutants are found at higher readings in rural communities.
For other contaminants, there are no specific federal standards, the EWG says. In the case of chromium-6, which is a form of the element chromium, for example, the government looks only at overall chromium levels, and not all types are harmful.
Chromium-6 has been linked to tumors in animal studies, and may also be linked to increased risk of stomach cancer in workers exposed to the compound, the EWG says. Chromium-3, on the other hand, is “mostly harmless.”
Chromium-6 was one of the contaminants found in drinking water in all 50 states, according to the database.
To lower levels of contaminants in drinking water, the EWG recommends that people use a water filter. As a part of the database, the EWG also offers recommendations on different types of water filters.
To learn about what’s in your drinking water, check out the EWG’s Tap Water Database.