Journalism in the Public Interest


Podcast: Water Pollution and Underground Aquifers


Abrahm Lustgarten discusses what his latest story on companies releasing toxic materials into underground aquifers means for drought-affected areas like Texas, seen above. (Scott Olson/Getty Images)

Last week, Abrahm Lustgarten reported on how the Environmental Protection Agency has allowed companies to release toxic materials into underground aquifers that supply more than half of the nation's drinking water. To help explain the story, he joined the podcast to discuss what that means for your drinking water, the long-term ramifications for drought-affected areas like Texas, and why the exemptions were enacted in the first place.

During our discussion, Lustgarten addressed other ways to dispose of this waste. He said, "There are hundreds of thousands of disposal wells, and there are several hundred of them that handle the worst kind of toxic, hazardous waste. The vast majority of those wells, by regulation, go nowhere near drinking water aquifers. They comply with the Safe Drinking Water Act, they find relatively safer portions of underground systems — rock bodies — that they can dispose of that waste. And while there are risks to doing that, there's no one who would disagree with the idea that that is better than injecting it straight into the drinking water... There's also other opportunities to minimize the amount of risk. Increasingly companies are looking at recycling this waste water so that there's a higher concentration, but a lower volume, of waste that needs to be injected underground and disposed of, and also just trying to lessen the amount of waste that's produced in the first place."

Thomas Blaney

Dec. 18, 2012, 3:24 p.m.

I bought a gallon of distilled drinking water in Oklahoma a few weeks ago that was the worst tasting “Spring Water” I have ever tasted. Before I dumped it out, I read that it came from Ft. Worth, Texas. The distributor was in Illinois. How can it possibly be profitable to haul drinking water thousands of miles?

First of all STOP DRINKING BOTTLED WATER! It comes from some other towns drinking water supply… saw one that said it was from the municipal water supply of Modesto, CA… that is tap water…. and if it is from a small community the water company is basically stealing their water for pennies a gallon and using plastics that come from oil we steal from other countries and then use gas from oil from those same countries to move it from source to store.  It doesn’t make any sense. Get a water filter and get a bottle of your own and take your own water where ever you go…drink water and never, ever, drink anything that comes in a plastic bottle.

Christopher Dudley

Dec. 19, 2012, 4:06 p.m.

I’m curious how the engineers and scientists justify these actions. We act as if we are at the end of history. As if these poisons we’re disposing of are conveniently disappearing. What we’re really doing is shoving the problem forward, to our children and subsequent generations. It’s all so disgusting, I don’t even know how to begin thinking about it.

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