Up to 170 million Americans in all fifty states may be exposed to radiation-tainted drinking water. Using data from 50,000 public water systems, the Environmental Working Group found that more than 22,000 utilities reported the presence of radium in treated drinking water between 2010 and 2015. Although only a small number of these systems had radium levels that exceeded the legal limits put in place by the EPA in 1976, these guidelines are in need of an update to ensure the public is aware of potential risks — which should be minimized. Perhaps unsurprisingly, President Trump‘s nominee to be the White House environmental czar, Kathleen Hartnett White, does not even believe in the science behind the EPA’s current, insufficient standard for radium monitoring.
Although the amount of radiation in the drinking water is minimal, there is a risk to public health, particularly if standards and policy are not based on the latest science. “Most radioactive elements in tap water come from natural sources, but that doesn’t take away the need to protect people through stronger standards and better water treatment,” said Olga Naidenko, Ph.D., EWG’s senior science advisor for children’s environmental health. “Millions of Americans are drinking water with potentially harmful levels of radioactive elements, but the outdated federal standards mean many people don’t know about the risk they face when they turn on the tap.” In Texas, about 80 percent of the water tested contained detectable levels of two radium isotopes. While Trump nominee Kathleen Hartnett White was the Lone Star State’s top environmental regulator, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality would alter the numbers to make it seem that tap water in Texas met federal standards.
During an 2011 investigation, Hartnett White admitted that she did not believe in the science that supported the EPA guidelines. When asked by a reporter what would come if Harnett White was wrong and the EPA was right, she simply said that “it would be regrettable.” After Harnett White admitted to the United States Senate that Texas did indeed alter data, her nomination was rejected. Nonetheless, the Trump White House decided to renominate her in hopes that senators would let her negligence slide. “Putting someone in charge of CEQ who deliberately falsified data to get around federal regulations is outrageous, and the fact that her deception left people at serious risk of cancer is even more alarming,” said Scott Faber, EWG’s vice president of government affairs. “The Senate should reject this radioactive nominee.”