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The Source: 82,000 Texans Drinking Contaminated Water

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Chris Eudaily
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TPR News

For more than a decade, 50,000 Texans have been exposed to water contaminated with unsafe levels of arsenic, according to a study by the Environmental Integrity Project and the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality. The EPA lowered the safe level of arsenic to 10 parts per billion in 2006. 

According to the EIP, 64 communities across Texas and water systems serving 80,000 people "have exceeded the health-based standard over the last two years." 

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Credit Environmental Integrity Project
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Arsenic exposure can cause lung cancer, and cancers in skin, stomach and kidneys, according to the American Cancer Society

The City of Seagraves - which has a long-term average of nearly four times the safe level - has been living with this issue for 10 years, and the report's findings did not come as a surprise to Public Works Director Renee Goodger. 

"I tell people to limit their exposure, to use bottled water, to use bottled water for cooking. It affects older folks and younger children probably more so than healthy adults," says Goodger. 

That said, Goodger does use the water herself and drinks straight from the tap, she says. It doesn't concern her. "I've grown up in West Texas and I've drinked this water all my life. And I don't seem to be having any ill affects from it," says Goodger.

One of EIP's chief criticism of Texas is the state fails to tell consumers in strong enough language and, in fact, gives contradicting information about the safety of water. EIP says the state requires water systems informing consumers in these communities to also state, "This is not an emergency."

The TCEQ disputes the idea that they don't take the issue seriously enough, noting that all but two of the highlighted communities are currently under enforcement or have undergone enforcement. They also say the risks associated with arsenic are for exposures far higher than what Texas is seeing. 

"Drinking water standards are set to protect people drinking 2 liters of water per day for 70 years.  The fact that typical Texas arsenic drinking water levels are not an immediate health threat is supported by the National Academy of Sciences and USEPA’s independent Science Advisory Board," says TCEQ spokesperson Andrea Morrow in a statement.

Guests:

  • Tom Pelton, co-author of the study for the Environmental Integrity Project
  • Renee Goodger, Public Works Director for the City of Seagraves
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Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org and on Twitter at @paulflahive