Water contamination beyond big cities

By John Rumpler
Senior Director, Clean Water for America Campaign and Senior Attorney

After Flint, Michigan’s water crisis gained national attention earlier this year, it was soon revealed that Flint was not alone -- cities across the country were facing lead contamination of their drinking water. While the spotlight has remained fixed on these big cities, the problem extends far beyond urban areas. Small -- often rural -- communities are also at risk from lead in their water.

According to a review of federal data by USA Today, roughly 100,000 people in small communities get their drinking water from systems where testing confirmed excessive lead. [1]

And the problem is potentially far worse: 4 million people live in small towns that either improperly tested their water, or skipped tests for lead altogether. [2]

Moreover, the drinking water threats in some of these towns go beyond lead.  Hoosic Falls in upstate New York is dealing with both lead and the toxic Teflon chemical, PFOA, in its water. [3] The water in Ranger, Texas – a former oil boomtown – is contaminated with lead, copper, and algae.[4]

Regarding the water coming out of his tap, Ranger resident and Vietnam veteran Bill Brister told USA Today, “Some days, it’s more brown than green. It smells sort of like a sewer . . . We don’t even give the dogs tap water.”  Brister says he spends about $70 a month on bottled water.[5]

While Congress has finally taken action to address the crisis in Flint -- approving $170 million in funding -- the EPA estimates that at least $384 billion will be required to replace aging water infrastructure across the country between now and 2030, $64.5 billion of which needs to be allotted to small communities.[6,7,8]  

During his campaign, President-elect Trump promised to make infrastructure investments a top priority. We hope he'll press the next Congress to invest the billions of dollars needed to help these communities get the lead out.


  1. Laura Ungar and Mark Nichols, "4 million Americans could be drinking toxic water and would never know," USA Today.
  2. Ibid.
  3. "Hoosick Falls Water Contamination," EPA, October 25, 2016. 
  4. Laura Ungar and Mark Nichols, "4 million Americans could be drinking toxic water and would never know," USA Today.
  5. Ibid.
  6. Jessica Dupnack, "$170 million federal funding package for Flint, communities affected by lead," ABC12, December 15, 2016. 
  7. Stacy Kika, "EPA Survey Shows $384 Billion Needed for Drinking Water Infrastructure by 2030," EPA, June 4, 2013. 
  8. "Drinking Water Infrastructure Needs Survey and Assessment," EPA, April 2013.