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How did our water become so contaminated?
In 1972, Congress signed the landmark Clean Water Act, which was followed two years later by the Safe Drinking Water Act, laws that led to dramatic improvements in water quality. But those laws were only a first step, were not always enforced well, and are now badly outdated. In its 2000 Water Quality Inventory, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) found that 45 percent of the nation's lakes and 39 percent of streams and rivers were "impaired," meaning they are unsafe for drinking, fishing, or even, in some cases, swimming.
A recent investigative series by the New York Times, "Toxic Waters," has focused attention on the fact that 20 percent of the nation's water treatment systems have violated the Safe Drinking Water Act since 2004. In this report, the paper revealed that water provided to over 49 million Americans contains illegal levels of bacteria from human waste, chemicals such as arsenic, and other toxic pollutants such as radioactive uranium.
The quality of the nation's tap water is regulated by the federal Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and various state agencies, which require utilities to test and monitor water supplies and report any problems.