Gallup Survey: Americans Have Become More Worried About Water Pollution

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Connecting state and local government leaders

Providing a backdrop for the findings: lead contamination in Flint, Michigan’s drinking water, and emerging concerns over the chemical PFOA in several Northeastern states.

Amid fallout over lead contamination in Flint, Michigan’s drinking water, a new survey shows that, compared to last year, Americans have grown more concerned about polluted water and other environmental issues.

Released last Thursday, the poll is from the analytics firm Gallup. It found that the percentage of Americans worrying “a great deal” about polluted drinking water is 61 percent, up from 55 percent in 2015. Likewise, the percentage of people worrying a great deal about contamination in rivers, lakes and reservoirs also increased—to 56 percent from 47 percent.

Gallup noted on Thursday that water pollution has consistently topped the list of environmental issues that Americans have voiced worries over during the last 27 years. The 2016 survey figures were roughly on par with those seen in 2014, after a dip last year.

In addition to the water crisis in Flint, fears have also emerged in recent weeks over water contamination involving a chemical known as perfluorooctanoic acid, or PFOA, in parts of New Hampshire, Upstate New York and Vermont. The chemical was once widely used to manufacture a range of water-resistant and nonstick products, including Teflon cookware.

Some studies have suggested links between the substance—also known as C-8—and increased risks of certain types of cancer.

DuPont Co. previously settled a class-action lawsuit involving thousands of people, over contamination from the substance in six water districts in parts of West Virginia and Ohio. Last fall, a jury found the company liable for a woman’s kidney cancer in another case.

It is not only concerns about water that have climbed since last year, according to the Gallup survey. The percentage of respondents worried a great deal about air pollution also went up, to 43 percent in 2016, from 38 percent in 2015. The proportion of people worried a great deal about climate change, or global warming, rose to 37 percent from 32 percent last year.

Democrats were consistently more concerned than Republicans about pollution and other environmental issues, the survey also found. For instance, the proportion of Democrats worried a great deal about drinking water pollution was 71 percent in 2016. For Republicans it was 48 percent.

The Gallup poll included a random sample of 1,019 adults, living in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. For results based on the total sample, it had a margin of sampling error of +/- 4 percentage points at the 95 percent confidence level. Respondents were both cellphone and landline users and were contacted between March 2 and 6.

Gallup’s full description of the survey and its findings can be found here.

Bill Lucia is a Reporter for Government Executive’s Route Fifty.

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