The Safe Drinking Water Act of the United States
In 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was enacted to safeguard the protection of tap water in the United States of America.
The act is an instrumental federal law that ushered in a new era for Americans: one that has significantly improved the safety of tap water for consumption and cooking, as well as centralizing the responsibility on behalf of hundreds of millions who use public water daily.
Introduced in Congress by Senator Warren Magnuson, a Democrat from Washington state, the law was established to focus on all waters (actual or potential) that would be utilized for drinking. The SDWA was part of several pieces of environmental legislation that was proposed throughout the 1970’s due to increased activism from citizens and politicians.
For the past forty-five years, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has overseen the core responsibility of the SDWA, which sets standards for over 150,000 public water systems throughout the country. While these systems provide tap water to almost all Americans, it’s also important to note that all bottled water is handled by the Food & Drug Administration (FDA). This is due to the Federal Food, Drug and Cosmetic Act.
The EPA, an independent agency of the U.S. federal government (itself created in 1970), has a handful of responsibilities when it comes to the Safe Drinking Water Act.
This includes the National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWR), which are the “legally enforceable primary standards and treatment techniques that apply to public water systems.” In short, these are primary standards and techniques that aim to protect public health by limiting contaminants in public water. The SDWA does not cover private wells.
The standards protect against health effects from exposure to naturally-occurring and man-made contaminants, which are organized into six classified groups: microorganisms, disinfectants, disinfection byproducts, inorganic chemicals, organic chemicals and radionuclides.
The regulations include Maximum Contaminant Levels, which is the legal threshold for the aforementioned contaminants that can be present in water, and health goals, which are not enforceable yet helps to provide clarity regarding adverse public health conditions. The EPA works with states, localities, and water suppliers who carry out these standards.
The EPA must follow to identify and list unregulated contaminants. This process may lead to the development of the aforementioned NPDWR in the future, which are legally enforceable primary standards and treatment techniques that apply to public water systems. Three criteria must be considered when deciding to regulate:
- The contaminant may harm the health of people in the community.
- The contaminant is known to occur, or there is a high chance that the contaminant will occur in public water systems often enough, and at levels of public health concern.
- In the sole judgment of the Administrator, regulation of the contaminant presents a meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction for persons served by public water systems.
During this process, the EPA first publishes a preliminary regulatory determination in the Federal Register (FR) and provides an opportunity for public comment. After review and consideration of public comment, the EPA announces a final FR notice with the regulatory determination decisions.
If the EPA decides to regulate a particular contaminant, the agency starts the rulemaking process to establish the NPDWR. On the other hand, the agency may choose not to regulate a specific contaminant based on the three criteria above. If a contaminant is not regulated, the agency may choose to develop a health advisory. A health advisory is a non-enforceable federal limit. It serves as technical guidance for federal, state, and local officials.
Many have argued that SDWA is full of loopholes and has an unjustified degree of discretion under the sections of the SDWA, which permits an administrative agency to use its “sole judgment” when determining what types of contamination-reducing technologies are “feasible.” In choosing which contamination-reduction processes to use, the EPA generally analyzes whether the benefits to public health justify the costs of complying with a maximum contaminant level.
For instance, it’s inability to regulate Hydraulic Fracturing or not including hundreds of new chemicals that have been associated with a risk of cancer and other diseases at small concentrations in drinking water. Some recent studies have found that even some chemicals regulated by that law pose risks at much lower levels than previously known.
While it’s been close to half a century since the legislation was enacted, there remains various issues and questions about water safety in the land of the free. In regard to this, there have been a handful amendments and additions to the Safe Drinking Water Act since 1974, including those in 1986, 1996, 2005, 2011, 2015, 2016 and 2018.
The most recent, known as America’s Water Infrastructure Act of 2018, provides for flood control, navigable waterways, water resources development, maintenance and repair of dams and reservoirs, ecosystem restoration, public water systems, financing improvements, hydropower development and technical assistance to small communities.
This is especially important as The American Society of Civil Engineers has rated U.S. infrastructure has failing for the past few decades. As of 2017, they estimate that it will cost nearly $4.5 billion to correct the issues.
And if not fixed, the consequences could be deadly.
At Mitte, we are thankful for the Safe Drinking Water Act. We understand that it has been an incredibly important step in providing quality tap water regulation for all Americans.
However, over the years, there have been many localized concerns that have put millions of Americans at risk for cancer and other developmental diseases. This is particularly apparent in recent history, such as the Flint Water Crisis which began in 2014 (and is still ongoing) and more recently, the arsenic crisis in California.
With our product, our goal is to take the guesswork out of consuming water.
First, we purify tap water, removing the contaminants and other negative attributes. Then, the water is mineralized to provide consumers with drinking water that has less impurities and more goodness in every drop.