The water service department continues to approve the Phoenix water quality despite public health concerns from a national environmental group. 

In the most recent water quality report for the city, which was conducted in 2021, data shows that the City’s Water Service Department has met all federal and state water standards. However, the belief that government standards for tap water are safe is not true for everyone. 

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The City of Phoenix adheres to the stringent guidelines set by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Arizona Department of Environmental Quality (ADEQ) to ensure the safety of our water supply. The EPA regulations for safe drinking water were last updated in 2013 as stated by the United States Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

An environmental nonprofit — the Environmental Working Group (EWG) — that gathers water quality information across the country has a different set of standards that are stricter than Federal and State Governments to further ensure and protect public health from the possibility of contamination. “Our approach puts Americans’ health – and especially children’s health – ahead of corporate interests, lobbyists and the slow wheels of regulatory standard-setting. We believe that this approach is not only right for our health, but good for our communities and the economy.”

Maryn Chmielewski the Administrative Assistant at the Environmental Working Group stated the group’s overall goal of their research. “The Environmental Working Group’s mission is to empower people to live healthier lives in a healthier environment.” says Chmielewski. “We are a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to protecting human health.”

The group informs that most of their guidelines come from the database based on the Public Health Goals established by Scientist in the California Office of Environmental Health and Hazard Assessment. 

Phoenix water quality analysis

According to their water safety guidelines, Phoenix’s water violates eight out of the 20 contaminate guidelines. The most concerning found were Lead, Nitrate, and Arsenic. 

Calculated by their stricter guidelines, lead exceeded safe levels by 4x, Nitrate by 16x, and Arsenic by 1,266x. These specific pollutants are the most dangerous due to their effects on people health. 

Justin Skinner a Grad Research Associate and Environmental Engineer at the Swette Center for Environmental Biotechnology supported the research that high levels of contamination can cause serious health problems.

“Arsenic is obviously very harmful,” says Skinner “and Lead can cause mental handicaps. Nitrate has also been shown to cause blue baby syndrome where babies that are specifically affected by the exposure to too much nitrate will be born blue.” 

The potential for health problems from polluted water increases as usage increases.  “I think that regulations need to have really low chemical contaminant levels because you’re not just drinking this one glass and that’s it, people are drinking this for decades of their life,” says Skinner. 

In the statistics published in the Phoenix’s Water Quality data report, from 2020 to 2021 there was an increase in lead by 1ppb, and increase in Arsenic by -1.8 ND, and an increase in Nitrate by -2 ND. 

According to The World health organization “The first symptoms of long-term exposure to high levels of inorganic arsenic (for example, through drinking-water) are usually observed in the skin, and include pigmentation changes, skin lesions and hard patches on the palms and soles of the feet (hyperkeratosis). 

Long term exposure can also cause skin, bladder, and lung cancer. The International Agency for Research on Cancer (IARC) has classified arsenic and arsenic compounds as carcinogenic to humans and has also stated that arsenic in drinking-water is carcinogenic to humans.

Nitrate in water can affect everyone. High levels of nitrate in drinking water may increase the risk of thyroid disease High levels of nitrate in drinking water may also increase the risk of colon cancer. Nitrate may enhance the cancer potential of other compounds or may turn into cancer-causing chemicals. High levels of nitrate in drinking water may cause neural tube defects (a type of birth defect). The neural tube turns into the brain and spine in an unborn baby. Neural tube defects can occur very early in pregnancy. When nitrate levels are high, women who are or may become pregnant should immediately stop using the water for drinking and preparing foods that use a lot of water. 

Long term exposure of Lead in water can have health affects as well.  Lead also causes long-term harm in adults, including increased risk of high blood pressure and kidney damage. Exposure of pregnant women to high levels of lead can cause miscarriage, stillbirth, premature birth, and low birth weight.

Due the amount of water consumed by the average person from the tap which, as mentioned by the U.S department of agriculture’s report is two thirds of the average person’s drinking water, makes the effects of water contamination possibly more severe

“…because of how often people are consuming tap water we really need to have an understanding of what might cause cancer or what might cause other health problems. “Skinner concluded.

The date for 2022 water quality report from the city’s water department has yet to be release, however, Michael Gertzman the community education manager for the Water Service Department in the city confirmed “The 2022 Water Quality Report is expected to be released on May 1.” 

The city has however been made aware of the study done by the EWG of the 2021 water repot and has responded to the group’s conclusions about the safety of the city’s water. According to Gertzman the “Phoenix Water Dept. staff have reviewed the study by the EWG and the analysis by Cloud Water Filters.” He explained that although the environmental groups summary of the water report differs from the cities own report due to different standards, the city still has taken their study into account. “The department takes any concerns about public health and safety very seriously” says Gertzman. 

“In response to the EWG’s report, we want to emphasize that Phoenix’s water quality testing is comprehensive and rigorous, following federal and state regulations. As a result, the Lead, Arsenic, and Nitrate levels detected in our tests have consistently remained below the EPA’s maximum contaminant levels (MCLs) and within safe limits for consumption. Furthermore, we continually invest in our infrastructure and water treatment processes to protect and improve water quality” replied Gertzman.

He added “We understand that the EWG and other independent organizations may have different testing standards and methodologies. While we respect their right to conduct their studies and share their findings, we stand by the accuracy and thoroughness of our testing and the safety of the water we provide to the residents of Phoenix.”

On the authority of the City of Phoenix government website, the city provides drinking water to over 1.5 million people within a 540 square-mile service area, producing 110 billion gallons of water annually that is continuously monitored. The city declared it has exceeded the sustainability requirements of the State of Arizona and is committed to providing the highest quality water and service to its customers.