Baltimore finished in the bottom third in an environmental group's ranking of the 100 biggest US cities' tap water.
The city came in 69th in a drinking-water comparison by the Environmental Working Group -- ahead of places like Pittsburg and Houston but behind New York and Philadelphia, not to mention well behind Boston and Fairfax County, VA.
The Washington-based environmental group said Baltimore's water contained 24 different contaminants, according to city sampling reported to the EPA. Fifteen of them showed up in testing at least once at levels that exceed various government health standards, the group said. Three exceeded federal safe drinking-water limits in at least one test from 2004 through 2008, according to the group. Two of the three are byproducts of the city's use of chlorine to disinfect water, but one - ntirites - could stem from fertilizer runoff, leaking septic tanks or natural conditions, the group says.
A single elevated test doesn't necessarily put a system out of compliance with EPA's limits, which apply to average levels found in testing throughout a year. But the Environmental Working Group expressed concern that more than 300 different contaminants are found in public drinking water systems, and pointed out that health guidelines have not been set for some of them. To read the group's report, go here.
A Baltimore city spokeswoman, Celeste Amato, said officials responsible for the local water system, which serves 1.6 million people in the metropolitan area, were surprised by the low rating.
"We just seem to be ranked very low given the high quality of our raw water supply, let alone our treated water,'' said Amato. The city draws its water from three reservoirs in Baltimore and Carroll counties - Loch Raven, Liberty and Prettyboy -- with an emergency backup supply from the Susquehanna River. The city tests its water more often than required, Amato noted, but she declined to discuss the specifics in the environmental group's report until city engineers could finish studying it.
The city's water has done better in previous comparisons. It ranked a much better 19th in a matchup done last year by SustainLane, for instance. As required by EPA, the city does post an annual report on its drinking water quality. You can read the latest one for 2008 here.
(2008 Baltimore Sun photo by Chiaki Kawajiri)