Top 10 Most Serious Water Quality Violators in California

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Why This Topic Is Important

Clean, safe drinking water is essential to child health and learning. Access to quality drinking water in the home, school, and child care facilities limits exposure to harmful toxins and also increases child consumption of water, promotes healthy habits, and helps children stay mentally focused and physically fit.

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Exposure to high levels of contaminants in drinking water can result in numerous adverse health effects for infants and children, including developmental delays, heart defects, liver or kidney damage, stomach and intestinal issues, respiratory infections, cancer, and neurological damage. Studies have shown that communities of color, low-income communities, and rural areas are more likely to be exposed to contaminated drinking water.

Levels of contamination that exceed the maximum allowed for drinking water, and documented failure to monitor drinking water contamination, indicate a higher risk of exposure to toxic levels of bacteria, metals, and chemical residue.

Top 10 Most Serious Water Quality Violators in California

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Disclaimer: shown counties with 10+ violations per year only. Source

How Children Are Faring

In 2011, California counties were issued 1,736 Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) violations, meaning contamination in drinking water supplies exceeded public health limits. This is an increase from 2005, when 921 MCL violations were issued. Risk of exposure to harmful chemicals through drinking water varies widely across California counties. Among the 52 counties with available data in 2011, only four had no contamination violations, while six counties had more than 100 violations each. These data do not indicate the severity of the violation.

According to 2011 estimates, approximately 927,000 people in California were affected by MCL violations (around 2,500 people per 100,000 in the population). This is slightly higher than 2005 rates, but well below the 2009 rate of 5,258 per 100,000.

Drinking water monitoring and recording violations occur when public water systems fail to meet water testing requirements or to report test results correctly. California counties received 1,060 such violations in 2011. Among the 52 counties with available data on this measure, the majority had fewer than 20 monitoring and recording violations each in 2011, while three counties had more than 100 such violations each.
Note: Children’s environmental health is an emerging area of research, and the data currently available give a limited picture of how children in California are faring. In many cases, county-level data are not specific enough to inform conclusions about children’s health risks, but they can spark further inquiry.

Policy Implications

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Access to quality drinking water is critical to child health and well being. Contamination of drinking water often occurs as a result of human activities that pollute groundwater, including industrial practices, agricultural use of pesticides and fertilizers, and animal waste. In addition, aging plumbing systems and corroded lead pipes can contaminate drinking water.

According to research and experts, program and policy options to improve children’s access to safe, clean drinking water include:

  • Sampling drinking water in schools and child care facilities per Environmental Protection Agency guidelines to determine contamination levels and whether water outlets should be closed
  • Replacing lead pipes, plumbing systems, and point-of-service outlets in schools or installing corrosion control and filtering devices to prevent lead contamination in drinking water
  • Educating school officials about Chapter 558 of the Statutes of 2010 (Senate Bill 1413, Leno), which requires school districts to provide access to free, fresh drinking water during meal times
  • Educating residents and community-based groups in areas without safe drinking water on what they can do to keep their family safe in the short term
  • Connecting small systems without safe drinking water to larger, nearby systems with more reliable and affordable sources
  • Constructing new water systems, including water treatment plants, for communities with contaminated ground water
  • Identifying solutions and funding sources to better manage and monitor groundwater, prevent groundwater contamination, and clean up or treat contaminated groundwater

Author kidsdata.org staff
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