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Water pollution worries in U.S. highest since 2001, whites not so worried

Staff Writer |
Americans are more concerned about water pollution than they have been since 2001.

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The latest percentages of Americans who are worried "a great deal" about the pollution of drinking water (63%) and of rivers, lakes and reservoirs (57%) have inched past the elevated levels of concern seen since 2014.

The latest data are from Gallup's annual Environment poll, conducted March 1-5, 2017.

The continued elevated levels of concern about both types of water pollution come as President Donald Trump signed an executive order to roll back environmental regulations put in place by his predecessor to protect American waterways from pollution.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Protection Agency under Trump has committed $100 million in federal funding to address the ongoing drinking water crisis in Flint, Michigan.

The discovery of elevated lead levels in Flint's public drinking water in 2015, and subsequent news about a range of other contaminants in the Flint water system, has put a national spotlight on the issue of water pollution.

Gallup first polled on environmental worries in 1989 and began tracking these concerns regularly in 1999. Since then, between 48% and 72% of Americans have expressed a great deal of worry about the pollution of drinking water, and between 46% and 66% have expressed this level of worry about the pollution of rivers, lakes and reservoirs.

Concerns about these issues were highest around the turn of the millennium, and lowest between 2010 and 2012, perhaps reflecting the state of the economy during those times.

Americans tend to give a higher priority to environmental matters when the economy is healthy than when it is not.

Democrats have fueled most of the increase in concern about water pollution since 2012.

Less than half of Republicans have reported being concerned a great deal about drinking water since 2012, ranging from 36% to 49% during that time. Democrats' concern has risen to 74% from 57% over the same period.

A recent study by environmental researchers has found that poor and minority Americans are more likely to be victims of heavy environmental pollution.

Some advocates have argued that Flint's heavily poor and black population increased its vulnerability to such pollution.

Perhaps reflecting this pattern, low-income and nonwhite adults are more concerned about environmental problems than their higher-earning and white counterparts.

While four in five nonwhites (80%) are worried a great deal about pollution of drinking water, concern is far less prevalent among whites, at 56%.

Across income groups, 75% of those who earn less than $30,000 annually are concerned a great deal about pollution of drinking water.

This compares with smaller majorities among those in middle-income (64%) and upper-income (56%) households.

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