It’s Not Just Flint: Lots of Us Are Concerned About Our Water Supply

If you're happy with your water supply, chances are you're white or wealthy

There's a reason many Americans are turning to bottled water. — (REUTERS)
Mar 06, 2016 at 10:56 AM ET

Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders are expected to address the Flint water crisis during a debate in the Michigan city on Sunday night, drawing attention to an issue that more than half of Americans think is a red flag signaling a much wider problem.

Only 47 percent of 1,033 American adults surveyed in an Associated Press-GfK poll said they’re extremely or very confident that the water flowing from their tap is safe to drink. Respondents who were white were more likely to be A-OK with their H2O: 54 percent of white respondents said they were “very confident” about their drinking water, compared to 40 percent of black people, and just 28 percent of Hispanics.

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According to the poll’s findings, released on Saturday, financial issues also play a role when it comes to confidence in quality of water nationwide. The less money your household takes in, the more likely you are to have concerns about your water supply. That was true of 60 percent of respondents in households earning less than $50,000, but true in just 40 percent of homes raking in twice that amount.

Black and Hispanic people, and those living in poorer households, are more likely to resort to drinking bottled water, and many of them said they avoided tap water over concerns about its safety. More than 50 percent of black people and 40 percent of Hispanic people drink bottled water, versus only 25 percent of white people who participated in the Associated Press-GfK poll. “Just four in 10 whites, but 6 in 10 non-whites say concerns about contamination are a major factor in their decision to drink bottled or filtered water,” the poll reported.

While people might be concerned about their own water, Flint’s water crisis, in which contaminated water was drawn from the city’s Lake Huron for 18 months after a change in water supply, has largely failed to grab the attention of most Americans. More than half of respondents said the Flint issue signaled a wider epidemic, but just 21 percent said they were “playing close attention to news about the situation.”

Still, the crisis resonated far greater among black people, with 32 percent following it “very closely.” They’re also more likely to think the federal government should step in to fix things. “Blacks (69 percent) and Hispanics (62 percent) are more likely than whites (44 percent) to want more federal government involvement,” the poll reported.