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If It's Not Their Water Being Banned, Americans Shrug Off Safety Concerns

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TOLEDO WATER
The City of Toledo water intake crib in Lake Erie was surrounded by algae on Aug. 3, 2014. | ASSOCIATED PRESS

WASHINGTON -- More than a week after authorities lifted the tap water ban in Toledo, Ohio, a wary Darlene Blakely is still trying to remember not to turn on the faucet.

"When I get up in the morning and go brush my teeth and use the tap water, then I have this jarring, startling moment of, 'Oh my gosh,'" the 64-year-old English teacher said. "I have to get into a routine to go and get some water and leave it there, so when I brush my teeth I'll know what to do. And I'm not into that new routine yet."

Toledo residents spent a weekend without tap water in early August after algae in Lake Erie created a dangerous toxin called microcystin. Though tests show the contaminants in the water have since returned to safe levels, Blakely said she and some of her friends remain uneasy.

"We've had concerns about our water for probably 10 years before two weeks ago," she said. In the past, Blakely said, she bought or filtered just her drinking water, but she now is worried about using the water to cook.

For those who've been affected by a water ban, those concerns can be hard to shake. Vivian Taylor, who lives in Kanawha City, a neighborhood of Charleston, West Virginia, spent five days making do without tap water in January after a chemical spill prompted a water ban there. At the time, she told HuffPost that she was suffering migraines from the water's smell, while her 80-year-old father waited hours for a truck to deliver water for his dialysis.

Now, she said, she operates with the "underlying fear" -- only reinforced by the incident in Toledo -- that something else will go wrong.

"Most people I know no longer drink water from the tap and are still using bottled water for cooking and drinking purposes," Taylor said. "I now wonder where the next water incident will occur as opposed to when it will occur."

While the causes of contamination were different in West Virginia and Ohio, both events pointed to more widespread threats to water safety. The chemical spill raised concerns, again, about industrial safety standards. Algae blooms in Lake Erie, which are fed by phosphorus runoff from farms, are likely to remain a problem for multiple communities drawing water from the lake's western basin, researchers caution -- although actual water bans have been rare.

Nationwide, however, most Americans are not worried about the safety of their water, according to a new HuffPost/YouGov poll. Seventy-three percent said the tap water in their area is safe to drink, a percentage virtually unchanged from a poll taken in the aftermath of the West Virginia crisis. Just 10 percent said they've been following the situation in Toledo very closely.

Americans are also relatively unconcerned that their own water supplies could face contamination in the future. Just 36 percent said it's likely that a situation similar to what occurred in Toledo could happen in their area, while 42 percent said it's unlikely and 22 percent said they were unsure.

Opinions were divided on the need for further regulation: 47 percent of Americans said the government should do more to regulate the safety of the public water supply. But 40 percent said current regulations are about right, and the remainder were undecided or favored less regulation.

The HuffPost/YouGov poll was conducted Aug. 6-10 among 1,000 U.S. adults using a sample selected from YouGov's opt-in online panel to match the demographics and other characteristics of the adult U.S. population. Factors considered include age, race, gender, education, employment, income, marital status, number of children, voter registration, time and location of Internet access, interest in politics, religion and church attendance.

The Huffington Post has teamed up with YouGov to conduct daily opinion polls. You can learn more about this project and take part in YouGov's nationally representative opinion polling. Data from all HuffPost/YouGov polls can be found here.

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