September 13, 2009

U.S. water polluters rarely punished

Polluters are admitting dumping more toxic substances into U.S. drinking water supplies but they are rarely punished by regulators, records indicate.

Even though chemical factories, manufacturing plants and other workplaces have self-reported more than 500,000 instances of violating the Clean Water Act in the last five years, state agencies and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency have often failed to act, The New York Times reported Sunday.

Regulators admitted to the newspaper that enforcement actions are unacceptably rare. New EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said state regulators struggle with insufficient resources and vowed to make clean tap water her agency's top priority.

The Times, after obtaining hundreds of thousands of water pollution records through the Freedom of Information Act, found that an estimated one in 10 Americans have been exposed to drinking water that holds hazardous chemicals or that doesn't meet safety standards in other ways.

Researchers told the newspaper that because most polluted water has no scent or taste, people don't realize it they've been exposed until they contract cancer or other illnesses.