By Elizabeth Zach, RCAC staff writer

water flowing from faucet to glassMany of the nation’s local water systems are failing to meet federal sanitary requirements, according to a new study.

Researchers writing in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences say that every year since 1982, up to 10 percent of the country’s water systems have violated the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. As many as 21 million Americans may have been exposed to unsafe drinking water in 2015 alone.

The problem is severe in low-income rural areas, the study’s authors report.

“These are often smaller communities flying under the radar,” Maura Allaire, an assistant professor of urban planning at the University of California, Irvine, and a lead author of the study, told The New York Times. “They’re struggling to maintain their aging infrastructure, and they’re struggling to keep up with the latest water treatment techniques.”

Allaire and her colleagues found that drinking water violations surged in rural areas in the 2000s after the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency passed regulations pertaining to disinfectants. Utilities use chlorine or other chemicals to disinfect drinking water supplies. But disinfectants can react with organic matter in water to create new compounds that endanger health. In recent years, the agency has required water utilities to limit use of these chemicals.

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