“I proposed drinking water cases, but they got shut down so fast that I’ve pretty much stopped even looking at the violations,” said one longtime E.P.A. enforcement official who, like others, requested anonymity for fear of reprisals. “The top people want big headlines and million-dollar settlements. That’s not drinking-water cases.”
The majority of drinking water violations since 2004 have occurred at water systems serving fewer than 20,000 residents, where resources and managerial expertise are often in short supply.
It is unclear precisely how many American illnesses are linked to contaminated drinking water. Many of the most dangerous contaminants regulated by the Safe Drinking Water Act have been tied to diseases like cancer that can take years to develop.