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Nearly 4 million Americans could be drinking toxic water

Millions of Americans living in rural communities could be at risk of drinking and bathing in toxic water, a year-long investigation by USA Today has found. Four million Americans live in regions where small water operators skipped required safety tests and around 100,000 people get their water from operators that discovered high lead levels but failed to take action to remove it in a timely fashion. An additional 850 small water utilities have not tested for lead since 2010 despite having a recorded history of lead contamination in the system.

Ranger, Texas, is one such system out of about 130 since 2010 where operators failed to take action in a timely manner to treat known dangers in the water:

Three years ago, the city found excessive levels of copper [in the water]. Nine months after that, three of 20 sites tested over the limit of 15 parts per billion of lead. Under federal law, both required immediate action, but documents show the city waited until this fall to start planning to control corrosion. Testing this September found five sites above the limit for lead, the Walton home topping the list at 418 parts per billion. The federal limit is 15.

Similar scenarios play out in hundreds of mostly struggling communities — cities built on boom-bust industries like oil and coal, isolated rural places and mobile home parks housing the poorest people in town. [USA Today]

Additionally, "the bar for running tiny water systems is low," USA Today reports. Or, in the words of Paul Schwartz, who works with the Campaign for Lead Free Water to remove the toxin from drinking supplies, "you might have to get more training to run a hot dog stand than a small water system."

Read more of the findings, and what is being done to protect families, at USA Today.