The Flint water crisis has put lead contamination in the spotlight, and the problem isn't confined to the Michigan city: In the last four years alone, testing has revealed around 2,000 water systems in the US with excessive levels of lead, including hundreds that supply schools or daycare centers, according to a USA Today investigation. The analysis of Environmental Protection Agency data found that a total of around 6 million people were affected, and the problem was found in every state. Even more worryingly, almost 200 of the water systems ignored federal rules about notifying consumers of high lead levels, which are caused by lead plumbing fixtures, as well as the old lead service lines that still supply more than 7 million homes in the US.
The Flint crisis is an extreme case, but authorities say similar problems are widespread, mainly affecting smaller water systems. "There's no question we have challenges with lead in drinking water across the country," a spokesman for the EPA's Office of Water tells USA Today. "Millions of lead service lines in thousands of systems." The agency plans to strengthen regulations to trigger more public warnings about contaminated water. NPR reports that lead contamination has been such a persistent problem for schools that some areas, including Baltimore, have permanently switched to using bottled water. (Erin Brockovich warned earlier this year that Flint is the "tip of the iceberg.")