Illegal concentrations of arsenic, radioactive materials like uranium, or bacteria have been found in more than a fifth of American water supplies in the last five years. Regulators were notified of the violations but penalties were imposed in only 6% of cases, according to a New York Times analysis of federal data. Contaminated water supplies affected some 49 million people—in some cases for years.
The problem, officials say, is that the feds have failed to make enforcing laws on drinking water safety a priority. A top EPA official goes before a Senate panel today, and the agency is expected to announce an overhaul in its policing. Insiders, however, don't expect a sea change. "The same people who told us to ignore Safe Drinking Water Act violations are still running the divisions,” one EPA official says. “There’s no accountability, and so nothing’s going to change.” (Read more contaminated water stories.)