The CWA sets forth requirements for the disposal of contaminants, such as wastewater. One notable provision of the CWA prohibits the discharge of pollutants from point sources, including pipes and man-made ditches, into navigable waters without a permit. The CWA also establishes the basic structure for regulating the discharge of pollutants into U.S. waters and the quality standards for surface waters.
The SDWA was passed in 1974 to ensure the safety of public drinking water and its sources. It authorizes the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set national standards to protect against health risks associated with using polluted water. The SDWA applies to all public water systems in the U.S., which must be tested to ensure compliance with health-based standards.
Unfortunately, even with laws and regulations in place, contaminated drinking water is still a widespread problem.
Water Pollution Persists Nationwide
Despite the laws governing water and waste disposal, unsafe drinking water continues to be a problem in the United States. A report by the Environmental Working Group revealed that public water supplies in many U.S. states are contaminated with both EPA-regulated and unregulated chemicals.
Water can become polluted from a variety of sources. The most common include:
- Coliforms, such as E. coli, which are found in human and animal fecal waste.
- Water additives, such as fluoride and chlorine.
- Erosion of natural deposits, such as mercury, lead, and asbestos.
- Organic chemicals often found in runoff from herbicides and pesticides used on crops or discharged from chemical, agricultural, and other industrial factories.
- Inorganic chemicals discharged from refineries and factories, such as nitrate, arsenic, and cyanide.
- Man-made chemicals, such as perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS) chemicals. These chemicals are used to manufacture everyday household products and are being detected in drinking water supplies across the country.
What Are the Symptoms of Illness From Contaminated Water?
Drinking contaminated water can cause health problems ranging from skin rashes to cancer. The severity of the illness depends on the type of contaminant and length of exposure. The following are common short-term and long-term health effects of exposure to contaminated water:
- Gastrointestinal illness.
- Legionnaires’ disease.
- Increased risk of cancer.
- Shortness of breath.
- Increased blood pressure or blood cholesterol.
- Bone disease.
- Nerve damage.
- Liver, kidney, spleen, thyroid, and adrenal gland problems.
- Eye or nose irritation.
- Hair or fingernail loss.
- Intestinal lesions or polyps.
- Reproductive problems.
- Nervous system, cardiovascular, circulatory, and central nervous system problems.
Exposure to PFOA and PFOS chemicals has been shown to cause significant problems, such as:
- Immune system deficiency.
- Liver and kidney disease.
- Low birth weight.
- Fetal developmental delays.
- High cholesterol levels.
- Heart disease.
- Cognitive developmental problems in children.
How Do I Know if My Water Is Contaminated?
If you think your drinking water may be contaminated, you can have it tested by a laboratory to identify the contaminants. Additionally, you can report your suspicions to your drinking water provider and ask them for an analysis and their most recent testing results.
Although many water toxins are colorless and odorless, there are several signs you can look for that suggests your water is unsafe for consumption.
The water from your tap should always be clear. Do not drink it if it is cloudy, as it could indicate a toxin or an overload of minerals. Report it to your water company.
Most drinking water comes from water tables, wells, or reservoirs in the ground, so sediment is a given. However, your water treatment facility should filter out nearly all sediment. If you find some, it could mean there is a break in the water main, allowing sediment to pass through. Make sure your water supplier knows about this problem.
If you notice an oily film sitting atop the water in your drinking glass, toilets, sink, or tub, it generally means there is oil or grease in the water supply. This can result from a water main break, poor filtration, or inadequate water treatment. Do not drink it until the oil clears up, and report it to your water supplier right away.
Brown or Orange Tint
Water that takes on a brown or orangish color generally indicates excessive iron or manganese. Mining or excavation near water supplies can be the culprit, as can rusty water pipes. Get water tested, and do not consume it until the color clears up.
Water can take on chlorine or sulfur scents, indicating it is unsafe to drink. Water treatment facilities will often add minuscule amounts of chlorine to drinking water to kill bacteria. However, if excessive amounts of chlorine are somehow added, it can cause intestinal problems and other serious health issues. You will smell a strong chlorine scent.
Sulfur occurs naturally in the ground, so traces of it may end up in the water supply. Low levels are not harmful if consumed, but higher levels will make you severely ill. Sulfur has a strong rotten egg smell, so most people will quickly notice the smell. Bacteria can also produce this scent, so it is essential to have the water supply tested to see what is causing the odor.
Clean drinking water should not have any taste. If you notice a metallic or bitter taste, it could mean it contains harmful substances, such as pesticides or industrial chemicals.
If you notice your silverware becoming tarnished or rusted, there may be too much iron in your water. However, if your water is not unnatural in color, there probably are no toxic amounts of iron. If you are unsure, have your water tested.
Have You Been Harmed by Your Drinking Water?
If you have become sick from the toxins or chemicals contaminating your drinking water, you have legal recourse. Sometimes, entire communities are harmed by exposure to polluted water. An individual or a class of affected people can work with an environmental lawyer to file a toxic tort case against the negligent party.
To prove a toxic tort case, plaintiffs must show that they were exposed to a dangerous substance from which they have suffered harm. Toxic tort cases may be brought against anyone who owed a legal duty to the plaintiff to protect them from such hazards. This could include a landowner, landlord, manufacturer, employer, or other parties.
Causation can be difficult to prove in toxic tort cases because illness caused by toxic exposure can take many years to develop, making it difficult to establish the link between the water toxin and the illness. Companies that violate federal drinking water standards are often big corporations with significant political influence. Unfortunately, this can lead to environmental injustice, especially for those who reside in less affluent areas.
When pursuing a toxic tort claim, it is imperative to have an experienced lawyer on your side. Our legal team will fight tirelessly to hold corporate giants and other guilty parties accountable for their actions. We will obtain clear medical testimony from experts, build a strong case of evidence, and provide skillful and knowledgeable legal representation.
Delaware Environmental Lawyers at Jacobs & Crumplar, P.A. Fight for Those Harmed by Contaminated Water
If you have been affected by contaminated water, contact one of our Delaware environmental lawyers at Jacobs & Crumplar, P.A. today. Complete our online form or call us at 302-656-5445 to schedule a free consultation. Located in Wilmington and Millsboro, Delaware, we serve clients throughout Dover, New Castle County, and Sussex County.