Report: Ohio seventh-worst in the country for safe water violations

Despite the state's low ranking, researchers praised Cincinnati for water facilities that use new technology to filter out industrial pollution.

Ohio is among the worst states in the country when it comes to water quality measures, a new study suggests. But researchers also touted Cincinnati as an example of ways to improve water quality.

Research released today by the Natural Resource Defense Council analyzed data from the Environmental Protection Agency and found that Ohio is the seventh-worst state in the country when it comes to violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act.

The problem is nationwide, NRDC researcher and report co-author Erik Olsen says.

“America has a drinking water crisis. Nearly 77 million Americans are served by community water systems that have violations. That’s nearly one in four Americans.”

NRDC’s report breaks violations out into two broad categories — one for violations in reporting and testing standards established by the Safe Drinking Water Act, and another for health-based violations.

“As a subset of those 77 million Americans, we found that 20 million Americans are served by systems that have health violations,” Olsen says. “Those are the worst violations in systems that have, for example, arsenic contamination.”

Health-based violations could also come from heavy metals such as lead, chemicals from industry and bacteria. About 19 million people a year get sick from water-borne pathogens, according to the Center for Disease Control.

Olsen says Ohio is the third-worst in the country when it comes to health based violations of the Safe Drinking Water Act.

Ohio’s water struggles mostly stem from large-scale farming, Olsen says, including nitrate pollution from industrial farms. Outdated water systems — like the one that made water undrinkable in Flint, Mich. — also loom for many Ohio cities. And industrial pollution from factories is also a concern in the state. But there are some bright spots.

“The good news in Ohio is that Cincinnati has one of the more advanced large-city water processing plants in the country,” Olsen says.

Those systems don’t address the pollution at its source, and aren’t necessarily the same specific fixes needed other places— rural Ohio’s nitrate problems would need different technology, for instance — but Olsen holds the city up as an example of the kind of investment that should be replicated. 

“The sources of the pollution need to be addressed — that’s really critical,” he says. “And more cities need to take their cue from Cincinnati” and install more advanced filtration systems. 

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