Drinking Water Monitorization of Unregulated Contaminants

Water Law Resource
June 29, 2012 — 1,117 views  
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You likely go into your kitchen to get a drink of water without even thinking about it. Maybe you reach for a glass in the cupboard and turn the faucet on, letting it run for a few seconds so it can get cold, and then you enjoy a refreshing beverage. However, having safe drinking water is something you really shouldn't take for granted. A lot goes into ensuring the drinking water systems are suitable for drinking, free of contaminants and secure.

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets standards for drinking water quality. It is regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the main federal law that ensures the water in the United States is safe to drink. The agency explains it was originally passed by Congress in 1974 to regulate the country's water supply, but was amended in 1986 and again in 1996 to place additional standards on drinking water quality and the actions that are required to guarantee its quality.

The EPA sets national health-based standards for drinking water and oversees the water suppliers to make sure they meet the criteria. There are more than 160,000 public drinking water systems in the United States and every single one must comply with the SDWA.

There are some substances in the drinking water that are not yet regulated by the EPA. The Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring (UCM) program is used to collect data on these contaminants. The substances that are suspected to be in the drinking water, but are not regulated by health-based standards as part of the SDWA, are managed under this program.

The current list of contaminants is reviewed by the EPA every five years. There can be no more than 30 suspected contaminants monitored every five years, and the list is based on the Contaminant Candidate List. In May 2012 the EPA published a list of 28 chemicals and two viruses that will be monitored from 2013 to 2015. These contaminants will be monitored in approximately 6,000 public drinking water systems as part of the UCM program. Around $20 million is expected to be spent by the EPA to support the monitoring.

"The monitoring that will take place will provide EPA with invaluable information about what municipalities are seeing in their drinking water all across the country," explained EPA acting assistant administrator for Water Nancy Stoner in a press release. "The results of this multi-year monitoring effort will help inform EPA’s work to ensure Americans receive safe drinking water."

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