Don’t Let That Viral Drinking Water Database Scare You


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The Environmental Working Group’s database is designed to instill fear.

By Louise Matsakis | MOTHERBOARD

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), an environmentally focused nonprofit, released a new database on Thursday that lets any US resident check what kinds of contaminants are present in their drinking water. The tool aggregates and analyzes publicly available data from nearly 50,000 public water systems across the country. Using the database is an easy way to learn more about what’s in your water, and it was quickly picked up by the media. But the way in which the EWG presents its data could cause unnecessary fear.

When I searched for my own Brooklyn zip code, 11237, the database told me that six „cancer-causing“ pollutants were in my water at levels above „health guidelines.“ When I dug deeper into what that actually means and consulted an independent expert, I found that in some cases, the EWG cherrypicks its benchmarks for contaminants from the lowest recommendation available. Instead of informing people about their water, it may leave them needlessly worried. Search for just about any zip code, and users are shown a handful of scary-sounding chemicals, as well as the word „cancer.“

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