7 On Your Side Investigates: What's in your water?

NEW YORK (WABC) -- For decades the Environmental Protection Agency has enforced strict rules about contaminants in drinking water, but some environmental scientists say those rules don't go far enough to protect Americans' health.

Those scientists argue the EPA has been slow to update standards or add new contaminants to the list of potentially hazardous substances the federal government regulates in drinking water.

An environmental activist organization based in Washington D.C. called the Environmental Working Group created a nationwide searchable database to illustrate the concerns expressed by their toxicologists.

The EWG database allows users to search for their utility and view the latest EPA inspection and violation records.

Eyewitness News looked at both databases and found water utilities throughout the Tri-State Area meeting federal guidelines but also containing substances like arsenic, radium, and trihalomethanes well above the levels EWG toxicologists recommend in order to eliminate the risk of any health effect.

"Just because it's legal, doesn't necessarily mean it's safe," said Alexis Temkin, a toxicologist at EWG. "Our guidelines are based on what carries no level of risk."

A spokesperson for the EPA responded to the EWG's claims in a statement.

"Protecting America's drinking water is a top priority for EPA," the spokesperson said. "EPA has established protective drinking water standards for more than 90 contaminants, including drinking water regulations issued since the 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act that strengthen public health protection. Over 92 percent of the population supplied by community water systems receives drinking water that meets all health-based standards all of the time. EPA is working aggressively with our state partners to push that number higher."

The Westchester County Health Commissioner also voiced support for the quality of the federal government's standards and adherence to them in her county.

"Our water is as safe as it can be at this time," Dr. Sherlita Amler said.

Water utilities are required to notify customers whenever a violation of federal standards is detected.

Anyone who is concerned about the quality of their water after viewing the EPA and EWG databases can consider a water filter, but it's important to research what chemicals the filter will actually protect against before making a purchase.

Here is a link to the EWG database: Tap Water Database.

Here is a link to EPA enforcement and compliance records: EPA Online Database.

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