Baton Rouge's drinking water may be in compliance with federal health standards, but a Washington, D.C.-based environmental nonprofit says that doesn't necessarily mean it's safe because the federal guidelines are antiquated.
The Environmental Working Group released an updated version of its Tap Water Database on Wednesday detailing the levels of chemical and radioactive contaminants in nearly 50,000 water utilities across the country.
The database — which can be found at www.ewg.org/tapwater/ — averages data from both state and federal water quality tests from 2012 to 2017. It includes results from nearly 32 million test results for 517 different contaminants and allows users to view data for a specific utility.
The vast majority of community water systems provide water that meets federal regulations, but tap water often contains contaminants in concentrations exceeding the levels that scientists say is safe, according to Sydney Evans, a science analyst at EWG.
"It's important to note that legal doesn't necessarily mean safe," Evans said, adding that many of the federal standards haven't been updated in decades.
The Baton Rouge Water Company, for example, passes all federal health standards. Still, EWG identified four cancer-causing contaminants that exceed its health-based guidelines based on the latest science.
That includes higher levels of the naturally occurring arsenic and radium, as well as chloroform, a byproduct that develops when water disinfectants interact with other contaminants or decaying vegetation.
"A lot of people take for granted that the water that comes out of their tap is free of contaminants," Evan said. "That's just not the case."
The Baton Rouge Water Company did not return a request for comment.
Evans said that the burden for adequate water quality shouldn't be shouldered exclusively by treatment facilities, noting that much of the contaminants are not naturally occurring and are a result of industrial runoff.
The database also includes a "What To Do" box that gives users recommendations on water filters, as well as a list of seven questions to ask elected officials about tap water to help spur reforms.