An illustration of the U.S. Capitol inside a drop of water.
Illustration: John Ritter

Fighting for Clean Water

What’s at stake: As reported in our May issue, a joint investigation of America’s drinking water by CR and the Guardian US found measurable levels of PFAS chemicals in the vast majority of 120 tap water samples from around the U.S.

Often called “forever chemicals” because they don’t break down easily in the environment or in our bodies, PFAS chemicals are used to make everything from nonstick cookware to stain-resistant fabrics. The compounds can seep into water from factories, landfills, and other sources.

Studies have shown that exposure to PFAS is associated with learning delays, cancer, and other health problems.

How CR has your back: CR is working with companies and policymakers to reduce PFAS exposure. These efforts include urging Congress to support a new bipartisan bill, introduced by Reps. Debbie Dingell, D-Mich., and Fred Upton, R-Mich., that would require the Environmental Protection Agency to adopt a drinking water standard for PFAS and declare two specific PFAS chemicals to be hazardous substances. These steps would enable the cleanup of contaminated sites nationwide.

CR is also advocating for California to pass a law banning PFAS in food packaging.

What you can do: Sign CR’s Demand Safe Water petition, calling on the Biden administration to set federal standards for PFAS levels in tap water.

Keeping Your Data Secure

What’s at stake: So-called dark patterns are website or app designs crafted to trick consumers into taking actions that are not in their best interests. Examples include links and menus that encourage users to spend more money or share more data, or that discourage them from opting out of user agreements or from deleting accounts.

How CR has your back: A 2020 CR study uncovered a cluster of these dark patterns. Confusing and nonfunctioning opt-out processes, it found, were preventing people from exercising their rights under the California Consumer Privacy Act, the landmark 2018 privacy law that gives consumers the right to access, delete, and stop the sale of their information.

In March, California’s attorney general relied on that study in prohibiting the use of dark patterns to impede a user’s choice to stop the sale of their data—a national first.

What you can do: When you come across manipulative online practices, report them to CR’s new Dark Patterns Tip Line.

Making Driving Tech Smarter

What’s at stake: In April investigators began probing the cause of a Texas crash in which a 2019 Tesla Model S struck a tree, killing the two people inside. An officer at the scene told CR he was almost certain that no one was in the driver’s seat when the car crashed—raising questions about Tesla’s Autopilot driver assistance feature, which is not supposed to function without a driver behind the wheel.

A Tesla vice president has acknowledged that adaptive cruise control—one component of Autopilot—had been engaged during the crash. But on-site tests of a separate Tesla by the National Transportation Safety Board found that the other component, Autosteer, “was not available on that part of the road”—suggesting Autopilot could not have been engaged.

How CR has your back: CR engineers have since shown that a 2020 Tesla Model Y can easily be “tricked” into driving on Autopilot without a driver in place. A video shows the car driving on our closed test track without signaling that the driver seat is empty.

CR’s evaluation does not provide insight into the Texas crash, but our safety experts say it does show that automakers need to do more to make sure drivers are present and paying attention when using these systems. Every car with active driving assistance should have a system to make sure drivers are present and looking at the road—as, for example, General Motors’ Super Cruise system does.

What you can do: Check out our latest Guide to Cars With Advanced Safety Systems

CR Progress Update

In February, spurred on in part by CR’s investigations, a House report confirmed what we’d been saying for years: Many popular baby foods contain alarming amounts of heavy metals—and neither baby food companies nor the government has been doing enough about it. Now bills in the House and Senate would require the Food and Drug Administration to establish separate limits for cadmium, inorganic arsenic, lead, and mercury in baby foods. And on April 8, the FDA announced its own plan to reduce heavy metals in baby food, something CR has been asking it to do for more than eight years.

Editor’s Note: This article also appeared in the July 2021 issue of Consumer Reports magazine.