The Next Flint? Arsenic Levels In Some Texas Drinking Water Exceed Federal Safety Levels — Why Won’t Texas State Officials Do Something?

Arsenic levels in the drinking water in 60 communities in rural Texas have reached unsafe levels, according to a CBS Local report. The Washington, D.C.-based Environmental Integrity Project claims that federal officials need to take over because they claim that not enough has been done to let residents know that their drinking water may contain dangerous levels of arsenic.

The report, released by the environmental group on Monday, claims that state officials were aware of the unsafe arsenic levels in water pumped to at least 82,000 Texas residents. However, state officials have been telling rural residents that the water is safe to drink and that they don’t need to find an alternate source.

According to the Dallas Morning News, the public water supply for at least 51,000 of the affected residents has been found to have higher than what is deemed safe levels of arsenic every year for at least a decade. Long-term exposure to excessive arsenic levels has been linked to bladder, liver, lung, and other organ cancers.

Communities near the Dallas area are safe, according to the report. The closest counties in Texas testing higher than normal for arsenic in their water supply are McClennan and Hill Counties. The arsenic offenders, according to the report, are small communities, mobile home parks, rural areas, and even one prison.

“When told that their drinking water is violating the maximum contaminant limit under the Safe Drinking Water Act, most people want to know: ‘Can I keep drinking or cooking with this water? What does it mean?’” said Eric Schaeffer, the executive director of the Environmental Integrity Project. “The health experts we depend on for advice, for translation, should ask themselves whether they would let their own families continue to use water that year after year violates Safe Drinking Water limits for arsenic.”

The Texas Commission on Environmental Quality said the Environmental Protection Agency has responded to reports of higher than normal arsenic levels in the drinking water of many Texans. They claim that the arsenic levels are not high enough to pose an immediate threat.

The TCEQ also reported that of the 65 different communities whose arsenic levels have continued to test high, all but two of them are currently “under enforcement.” This means that they have been ordered to improve filtration and may have been fined for past infractions.

The federal safety guidelines for arsenic in drinking water is 10 parts per billion. The TCEQ advisory reportedly sent a notice to Texas residents whose water proved to have higher levels of arsenic than the federal guidelines.

However, the letter also said, “This is not an emergency. You do not need to use an alternative water supply.”

When arsenic and other substances are found in excess of federal safety levels in the drinking water, the TCEQ is required to alert the affected communities. Joseph Graziano, an environmental sciences professor at Columbia University, thinks that local agencies aren’t doing enough to keep Texas residents safe. Rather than telling the residents that the drinking water is safe and that they don’t need an alternate supply, Graziano feels like the TCEQ should be suggesting additional filtration systems to those affected by the high levels of arsenic in their water.

The report from the Environmental Integrity Project drew parallels between the rural Texas high arsenic levels and the lead poisoning that still hasn’t been remedied in Flint, Michigan. While Texas officials continue telling locals that the water is not an “immediate threat” and that it is safe to drink, the EIP warned that Flint officials told local residents the same thing even after they complained about the odd color and smell of their drinking water. Is rural Texas becoming the new Flint, or will officials get the arsenic problem under control?

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