Safe Drinking Water Act
The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is the principal federal law in the United States intended to ensure safe drinking water for the public. Pursuant to the act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to set standards for drinking water quality and oversee all states, localities, and water suppliers that implement the standards.
|Long title||An Act to amend the Public Health Service Act to assure that the public is provided with safe drinking water, and for other purposes|
|Enacted by||the 93rd United States Congress|
|Effective||December 16, 1974|
|Public law||Pub. L. 93-523|
|Statutes at Large||88 Stat. 1660 (1974)|
|U.S.C. sections created||42 U.S.C. § 300f|
Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1986,
The SDWA applies to every public water system (PWS) in the United States. There are currently over 151,000 public water systems providing water to almost all Americans at some time in their lives. The Act does not cover private wells.
National Primary Drinking Water RegulationsEdit
The SDWA requires EPA to establish National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWRs) for contaminants that may cause adverse public health effects.
The regulations include both mandatory levels (Maximum Contaminant Levels, or MCLs) and nonenforceable health goals (Maximum Contaminant Level Goals, or MCLGs) for each included contaminant. MCLs have additional significance because they can be used under the Superfund law as "Applicable or Relevant and Appropriate Requirements" in cleanups of contaminated sites on the National Priorities List.
Federal drinking water standards are organized into six groups:
- Disinfection Byproducts
- Inorganic Chemicals
- Organic Chemicals
EPA has issued standards for Cryptosporidium, Giardia lamblia, Legionella, coliform bacteria and enteric viruses. EPA also requires two microorganism-related tests to indicate water quality: plate count and turbidity.
"Lead Free" plumbing requirementsEdit
The 1986 amendments require EPA to set standards limiting the concentration of lead in public water systems, and defines "lead free" pipes as:
- (1) solders and flux containing not more than 0.2 percent lead;
- (2) pipes and pipe fittings containing not more than 8.0 percent lead; and
- (3) plumbing fittings and fixtures as defined in industry-developed voluntary standards (issued no later than August 6, 1997), or standards developed by EPA in lieu of voluntary standards.
EPA published a white paper in 2016 discussing options for additional revisions to the Lead and Copper Rule.
Secondary drinking water standards are non-regulatory guidelines for aesthetic characteristics, including taste, color, and odor.
EPA has issued "health advisories" for some contaminants; some of which have not been regulated with MCLs. Health advisories provide technical information to public health officials about health effects, methods for chemical analysis, and treatment methods. The advisories are not enforceable. As of 2017, health advisories have been issued for the following contaminants.
|Chemical Contaminants||Microbial Contaminants|
|Dacthal (DCPA) and Dacthal degradates||Cryptosporidium|
|2,4- and 2,6- Dinitrotoluene (DNT)||Legionella|
|Methyl tert-butyl ether (MTBE)|
|Perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane sulfonate (PFOS)|
Non-community water systemsEdit
Future NPDWR standards will apply to non-transient non-community water systems because of concern for the long-term exposure of a stable population. It is important to note that EPA's decision to apply future NPDWRs to non-transient non-community water systems may have a significant impact on Department of Energy facilities that operate their own drinking water systems.
The SDWA requires EPA to identify and list unregulated contaminants which may require regulation. The Agency must publish this list, called the Contaminant Candidate List (CCL) every five years. EPA is required to decide whether to regulate at least five or more listed contaminants. EPA uses this list to prioritize research and data collection efforts, which support the regulatory determination process.
As of 2017, EPA has developed four CCLs:
- CCL1: 50 chemical and 10 microbiological contaminants/contaminant groups were listed in 1998. In 2003 EPA made a determination that no regulatory action was needed on nine of these contaminants.
- CCL2: EPA carried forward the remaining 51 contaminants from CCL1 for consideration in 2005. In 2008 EPA determined that no regulatory action was needed on 11 of these contaminants.
- CCL3: EPA revised its listing process, based on recommendations from the National Research Council and the National Drinking Water Advisory Council (a Federal Advisory Committee). It expanded its initial review to 7,500 potential chemical and microbial contaminants, and subsequently narrowed this universe to a list of 600 for further evaluation. 104 chemicals or chemical groups and 12 microbiological contaminants were listed in 2009. In 2011 EPA announced it would develop regulations for perchlorate, which had been listed beginning with CCL1. In 2016 EPA determined that no regulatory action was needed on four other listed contaminants, and delayed determination on a fifth contaminant, in order to review additional data.
- CCL4: EPA carried forward the CCL 3 contaminants for which determinations had not been made, and requested public comment on additional contaminants. 97 chemicals or chemical groups and 12 microbial contaminants were listed in 2016.
The Natural Resources Defense Council filed a lawsuit in 2016 to accelerate EPA's regulatory process on perchlorate. A federal district court in New York issued a consent decree requiring EPA to issue a proposed rule in October 2018, and a final rule in December 2019.
Monitoring, compliance and enforcementEdit
Public water systems are required to regularly monitor their water for contaminants. Water samples must be analyzed using EPA-approved testing methods, by laboratories that are certified by EPA or a state agency.
A PWS must notify its customers when it violates drinking water regulations or is providing drinking water that may pose a health risk. Such notifications are provided either immediately, as soon as possible (but within 30 days of the violation) or annually, depending on the health risk associated with the violation. Community water systems—those systems that serve the same people throughout the year—must provide an annual "Consumer Confidence Report" to customers. The report identifies contaminants, if any, in the drinking water and explains the potential health impacts.
Oversight of public water systems is managed by "primacy" agencies, which are either state government agencies, Indian tribes or EPA regional offices. All state and territories, except Wyoming and the District of Columbia, have received primacy approval from EPA, to supervise the PWS in their respective jurisdictions. A PWS is required to submit periodic monitoring reports to its primacy agency. Violations of SDWA requirements are enforced initially through a primacy agency's notification to the PWS, and if necessary following up with formal orders and fines.
Airline water suppliesEdit
In 2004, EPA tested drinking water quality on commercial aircraft and found that 15 percent of tested aircraft water systems tested positive for total coliform bacteria. EPA published a final regulation for aircraft public water systems in 2009. The regulation requires air carriers operating in the U.S. to conduct coliform sampling, management practices, corrective action, public notification, operator training, and reporting and recordkeeping. An airline with a non-complying aircraft must restrict public access to the on-board water system for a specified period.
Underground Injection Control (UIC) ProgramEdit
- Class I. Industrial waste (hazardous and non-hazardous) and municipal wastewater disposal wells
- Class II. Oil and gas related injection wells (except wells solely used for production; see Hydraulic fracturing exemption)
- Class III. Solution mining wells
- Class IV. Shallow hazardous and radioactive waste injection wells (no longer permitted)
- Class V. Wells that inject non-hazardous fluids into or above underground sources of drinking water
- Class VI. Geologic sequestration wells for carbon dioxide.
EPA has granted UIC primacy enforcement authority to 34 states for Class I, II, III, IV and V wells. Seven additional states and two tribes have been granted primacy authority for Class II wells only. EPA manages enforcement of Class VI wells directly.
Hydraulic fracturing exemptionEdit
Congress amended the SDWA in 2005 to exclude hydraulic fracturing, an industrial process for recovering oil and natural gas, from coverage under the UIC program, except where diesel fuels are used. This exclusion has been called the "Halliburton Loophole". Halliburton is the world's largest provider of hydraulic fracturing services. The measure was a response to a recommendation from the Energy Task Force, chaired by Vice President Dick Cheney in 2001. (Cheney had been Chairman and CEO of Halliburton from 1995 to 2000.)
The SDWA includes a whistleblower protection provision. Employees in the US who believe they were fired or suffered another adverse action related to enforcement of this law have 30 days to file a written complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration.
Prior to the SDWA there were few national enforceable requirements for drinking water. Improvements in testing were allowing the detection of smaller concentrations of contaminant and allowing more tests to be run.
Under state programs, some water works managers mistakenly believed that the major, real threats were behind them and their primary focus was on providing consistent and effective service through aging infrastructure, with major efforts at maintaining the bacteriological quality of drinking water.
The Safe Drinking Water Act was one of several pieces of environmental legislation in the 1970s. Discovery of organic contamination in public drinking water and the lack of enforceable, national standards persuaded Congress to take action.
Historically, up through 1914, drinking water quality in the United States was managed at the state and local level. After that, interstate waters were protected using United States Public Health Service (USPHS) standards. Ultimately the USPHS standards were adopted and expanded as national drinking water standards after passage of the 1974 law.
The 1974 law very clearly defined roles and responsibilities, giving EPA the job of generating scientifically based standards that would be applicable to all water supplies that served 25 or more customers and creating a process for setting new standards. EPA was mandated to contract with the National Academy of Sciences for a major study of contaminants in drinking water that might have health significance and to issue revised regulations once the NAS report was completed.
The 1986 SDWA amendments required EPA to apply future NPDWRs to both community and non-transient non-community water systems when it evaluated and revised current regulations. The first case in which this was applied was the "Phase I" final rule, published on July 8, 1987. At that time NPDWRs were promulgated for certain synthetic volatile organic compounds and applied to non-transient non-community water systems as well as community water systems. This rulemaking also clarified that non-transient non-community water systems were not subject to MCLs that were promulgated before July 8, 1987. The 1986 amendments were signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on June 19, 1986.
In addition to requiring more contaminants to be regulated, the 1986 amendments included:
- Well head protection
- New monitoring for certain substances
- Filtration for certain surface water systems
- Disinfection for certain groundwater systems
- Restriction on lead in solder and plumbing
- More enforcement powers.
1996 SDWA amendmentsEdit
In 1996, Congress amended the Safe Drinking Water Act to emphasize sound science and risk-based standard setting, small water supply system flexibility and technical assistance, community-empowered source water assessment and protection, public right-to-know, and water system infrastructure assistance through a multibillion-dollar state revolving loan fund. The amendments were signed into law by President Bill Clinton on August 6, 1996.
Main points of the 1996 amendmentsEdit
- Consumer Confidence Reports: All community water systems must prepare and distribute annual reports about the water they provide, including information on detected contaminants, possible health effects, and the water's source.
- Cost-Benefit Analysis: EPA must conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis for every new standard to determine whether the benefits of a drinking water standard justify the costs.
- Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. States can use this fund to help water systems make infrastructure or management improvements or to help systems assess and protect their source water.
- Microbial Contaminants and Disinfection Byproducts: EPA is required to strengthen protection for microbial contaminants, including cryptosporidium, while strengthening control over the byproducts of chemical disinfection. EPA promulgated the Stage 1 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule and the Interim Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule to address these risks.
- Operator Certification: Water system operators must be certified to ensure that systems are operated safely. EPA issued guidelines in 1999 specifying minimum standards for the certification and recertification of the operators of community and non-transient, noncommunity water systems. These guidelines apply to state operator certification programs. All states are currently implementing EPA-approved operator certification programs.
- Public Information and Consultation: SDWA emphasizes that consumers have a right to know what is in their drinking water, where it comes from, how it is treated, and how to help protect it. EPA distributes public information materials (through its Drinking Water Hotline, Safewater web site, and Resource Center) and holds public meetings, working with states, tribes, water systems, and environmental and civic groups, to encourage public involvement.
- Small Water Systems: Small water systems are given special consideration and resources under SDWA, to make sure they have the managerial, financial, and technical ability to comply with drinking water standards.
Through the Energy Policy Act of 2005, the Safe Drinking Water Act was amended to exclude the underground injection of any fluids or propping agents other than diesel fuels used in hydraulic fracturing operations from being considered as "underground injections" for the purposes of the law.
Congress passed the Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act in 2011. This amendment, effective in 2014, tightened the definition of "lead-free" plumbing fixtures and fittings.
The Drinking Water Protection Act was enacted on August 7, 2015. It required EPA to submit to Congress a strategic plan for assessing and managing risks associated with algal toxins in drinking water provided by public water systems. EPA submitted the plan to Congress in November 2015.
The Grassroots Rural and Small Community Water Systems Assistance Act was signed by President Barack Obama on December 11, 2015. The amendment provides technical assistance to small public water systems, to help them comply with National Primary Drinking Water Regulations.
The Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act added several provisions to the SDWA, along with providing financial assistance to the city of Flint, Michigan in responding to its lead contamination crisis, as well as assistance for other communities. The provisions include:
- expanding the water infrastructure public-private partnership loan program
- requiring public notification when household drinking water contains lead levels above the EPA action level (currently 0.015 mg/L)
- establishing a voluntary program for testing for lead in drinking water at schools and childcare centers
- creating a public information clearinghouse on alternative drinking water delivery systems.
The SDWA can promote environmental justice by increasing the safety of drinking water in the communities most adversely impacted by water contamination. Communities of color and low-income communities are disproportionately impacted by unsafe drinking water and associated health problems in the United States. Specifically, Native American reservations and communities with dense Latino and African American populations are at higher risk of exposure to drinking water contaminants. Contaminants found in the drinking water of such communities include nitrates, coliform, and lead, which have been linked to cancer, reproductive health problems, gastrointestinal illness, and other health problems. One study found that levels of contaminants in the drinking water of two Nebraska Native American reservations were significantly higher than regional contaminant levels. Another study found that Latino residents in Tucson, Arizona, had higher than average levels of contaminants in their drinking water, which were linked to higher rates of cancer and neurological disorders among residents. Also, it is understood that low-income residents in the Appalachian region of West Virginia are disproportionately exposed to contaminants in drinking water from coal mining in the region.
In addressing the updated priorities associated with the act, EPA states that its first priority is to "promote equity... in disadvantaged, small, and environmental justice communities," specifically addressing that disadvantaged communities face disproportionate risks associated with exposure to contaminated drinking water.
- United States. Pub.L. 99–359; 100 Stat. 642. "Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1986." 1986-06-19.
- United States. Pub.L. 104–182, 110 Stat. 1613. "Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996." 1996-08-06.
- United States. Pub.L. 93–523; 88 Stat. 1660; 42 U.S.C. § 300f et seq. 1974-12-16.
- A public water system has at least 15 service connections or regularly serves at least 25 individuals, at least 60 days per year. 42 U.S.C. § 300f(4)(A)
- "Information about Public Water Systems". Drinking Water Requirements for States and Public Water Systems. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). 2017-03-08.
- "About Private Water Wells". EPA. 2015-11-17.
- United States. Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act, 21 U.S.C. § 301 et seq.
- EPA. "National Primary Drinking Water Regulations." Code of Federal Regulations, 40 CFR Part 141.
- "Chapter 4. Guidance for Compliance with Requirements of the Safe Drinking Water Act". CERCLA Compliance with Other Laws Manual (Report). EPA. August 1988. p. 4-1. EPA 540/G-89/006.
- "National Primary Drinking Water Regulations". EPA. 2017-07-11.
- Safe Drinking Water Act. "Prohibition on use of lead pipes, solder, and flux." 42 U.S.C. § 300g-6(d).
- EPA. "Maximum Contaminant Level Goals and National Primary Drinking Water Regulations for Lead and Copper; Final Rule." Federal Register, 56 FR 26460, 1991-06-07.
- EPA (2007-10-10). "National Primary Drinking Water Regulations for Lead and Copper: Short-Term Regulatory Revisions and Clarifications." Federal Register, 72 FR 57782
- Lead and Copper Rule Revisions; White Paper (PDF) (Report). EPA. October 2016.
- "Proposed Radon in Drinking Water Regulation". EPA. 2014-06-14.
- "Secondary Drinking Water Standards: Guidance for Nuisance Chemicals". EPA. 2017-03-08.
- "Drinking Water Contaminant Human Health Effects Information". EPA. 2017-06-22.
- "Basic Information on the CCL and Regulatory Determination". EPA. 2015-11-25.
- EPA (1998-03-02). "Announcement of the Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List." Federal Register, 63 FR 10274
- EPA (2003-07-18). "Announcement of Regulatory Determinations for Priority Contaminants on the Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List." 68 FR 42898
- EPA (2005-02-24) "Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List 2." 70 FR 9071
- EPA (2008-07-30). "Regulatory Determinations Regarding Contaminants on the Second Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List." 73 FR 44251.
- EPA (2009-10-08). "Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List 3-Final." 74 FR 51850
- "Overview of CCL 3 Process". CCL and Regulatory Determination. EPA. 2016-09-29.
- "Perchlorate in Drinking Water". Drinking Water Contaminants—Standards and Regulations. EPA. 2017-03-31.
- EPA (2011-02-11). "Drinking Water: Regulatory Determination on Perchlorate." 76 FR 7762
- EPA (2016-01-04). "Announcement of Final Regulatory Determinations for Contaminants on the Third Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List." 81 FR 13.
- EPA (2016-11-17) "Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List 4-Final." 81 FR 81099.
- "Overview of the CCL 4 Approach". CCL and Regulatory Determination. EPA. 2016-11-17.
- Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc. v. United States Environmental Protection Agency and Gina McCarthy, 16 Civ. 1251 (ER). United States District Court for the Southern District of New York. Consent Decree filed October 17, 2016.
- "Learn about Drinking Water Analytical Methods". EPA. 2015-10-02.
- "Learn About Laboratory Certification for Drinking Water". EPA. 2015-10-07.
- "Public Notification Rule". Drinking Water Requirements for States and Public Water Systems. EPA. 2015-11-09.
- "Safe Drinking Water Act: Consumer Confidence Reports (CCR)". EPA. 2016-01-19.
- "Primacy Enforcement Responsibility for Public Water Systems". Drinking Water Requirements for States and Public Water Systems. EPA. 2015-11-09.
- EPA (2004). "Understanding the Safe Drinking Water Act." Fact sheet. Document no. EPA 816-F-04-030.
- Washington State Department of Health, Olympia, WA. "Enforcing Drinking Water Regulations." Accessed 2014-02-19.
- EPA. "National Primary Drinking Water Regulations: Drinking Water Regulations for Aircraft Public Water Systems." Final rule. Federal Register, 74 FR 53590, 2009-10-19.
- SDWA. "Regulations for State programs." 42 U.S.C. § 300h
- "Protecting Underground Sources of Drinking Water from Underground Injection". EPA. 2017-01-19.
- "Primary Enforcement Authority for the Underground Injection Control Program". EPA. 2017-05-10.
- Energy Policy Act of 2005, (Pub.L. 109–58), approved 2005-08-08. Amended SDWA § 1421(d). See 42 U.S.C. § 300h.
- "Natural Gas Extraction - Hydraulic Fracturing". EPA. 2016-02-01.
- Mark Drajem and Katarzyna Klimasinska (1 February 2012). "EPA Shrinking 'Halliburton Loophole' Threatens Obama Gas Pledge". Bloomberg. Retrieved 22 March 2012.
- United States. National Energy Policy Development Group (May 2001). National Energy Policy (PDF) (Report). U.S. Government Printing Office. pp. 5–6. ISBN 0-16-050814-2.
- "Cheney's Halliburton Ties Remain". CBS News. September 26, 2003. Archived from the original on October 20, 2007. Retrieved December 13, 2007.
- SDWA. "General provisions." 42 U.S.C. § 300j-9(i)
- Bredickas, Vincent; Hartnett, Kim (1998-02-24). "Safe Drinking Water Act". Water Treatment Primer. Blacksburg, VA: Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University. Retrieved 2010-03-21.
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- EPA Alumni Association: Senior EPA officials discuss early implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, Video, Transcript (see p4).
- EPA Alumni Association: Senior EPA officials discuss early implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, Video, Transcript (see p3).
- EPA Alumni Association: Senior EPA officials discuss early implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, Video, Transcript (see pages 4,5).
- EPA (1987). "National Primary Drinking Water Regulations – Synthetic Organic Chemicals; Monitoring for Unregulated Contaminants; Final Rule." Federal Register, 52 FR 25690, 1987-07-08.
- EPA (1986). "President Signs Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments." Press release. 1986-06-20.
- EPA. Drinking Water State Revolving Fund Program and implementation regulations. 40 CFR 3500 (Subpart L).
- EPA (1998). "Stage 1 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule." Federal Register, 63 FR 69389, 1998-12-16.
- EPA (1998). "Interim Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule ." Federal Register, 63 FR 69477, 1998-12-16.
- EPA (1999). "Final guidelines for the Certification and Recertification of the Operators of Community and Nontransient Noncommunity Public Water Systems." Federal Register, 64 FR 5915, 1999-02-05.
- Reduction of Lead in Drinking Water Act. Pub.L. 111–380; 124 Stat. 4131. Approved January 4, 2011.
- Drinking Water Protection Act. Pub.L. 114–45. Approved August 7, 2015.
- EPA (November 2015). "Algal Toxin Risk Assessment and Management Strategic Plan for Drinking Water."
- Grassroots Rural and Small Community Water Systems Assistance Act. Pub.L. 114–98. Approved December 11, 2015.
- Water Infrastructure Improvements for the Nation Act. Pub.L. 114–322. Approved 2016-12-16.
- "Drinking Water Action Plan" (PDF). EPA. November 2016.
- Christian-Smith, Juliet (2002). A Twenty-First Century US Water Policy. Oxford University. ISBN 9780199859443.
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- EPA - Safe Drinking Water Act - Overview of national program
- Duhigg, Charles. "That Tap Water Is Legal but May Be Unhealthy." New York Times, 2009-12-16.
- EPA Alumni Association - Early Implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act (video interviews regarding first 10 years of the implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974)
- EPA Alumni Association: Drinking Water, Half Century of Progress – a brief history of U.S. efforts to protecti drinking water