If you’ve tuned into the news recently, you’ve probably seen reports of water crises effecting cities across the nation – the largest school district in New Jersey shut off its water due to dangerous lead levels, several drinking water systems in California were found to contain uranium, and of course, the widely publicized crisis in Flint, Michigan where lead contamination caused a state of emergency.
Under federal law, drinking water must meet a certain standard to be considered safe to drink. The Safe Drinking Water Act and Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) set the standard for what’s acceptable and considered “safe” when it comes to water – but that doesn’t mean it’s free of all contaminants.
Water Protection and Regulation
All water contains low, undetectable levels of certain chemicals and pathogens that are monitored and reported, usually on an annual basis. And the EPA is responsible for deciding which contaminants are monitored, but the list is not exhaustive.
Why? It would be impossible to regulate them all.
Of all the contaminants that exist, the EPA chooses to regulate substances found to be prevalent, as well as feasible and cost-effective to remove from drinking water, meeting these three criteria:
Each contaminant that’s regulated must have a “health-based maximum contaminant level goal,” meaning a level low enough that can be consumed throughout a person’s lifetime without affecting their health.
No amount of lead in drinking water is considered safe, so it’s health-based goal is zero – the EPA’s action level is 15 parts per billion. To put that into perspective, lead levels in Flint tested higher than 1,000 parts per billion.
The Truth About Your Water
Public water systems are required to publish annual water reports that identify the community’s water source and level of contaminants. You can find this information through your local water utility website.
Although the Safe Drinking Water Act and the EPA are in place to measure contaminants, they’re just a safeguard, protecting against the minimum. To be sure you have the safest drinking water, it’s best to take additional measures.