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The Safe Drinking Water Act



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    Most people when thirsty or parched will go into their kitchen and grab a glass of water from their faucet to quench their thirst. Without any awareness, of how much different it was fifty years ago in order to get water through their faucet. Water before 1974 wasn’t the most sanitary water to drink. In 1974 however, the Safe Drinking Water Act came into law. The water before the act was passed, carried different types of bacterial diseases, which were harmful to humans. According to EPA, “The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is the main federal law that ensures the quality of Americans’ drinking water. Under the act, EPA sets standards for drinking water quality and oversees the states, localities, and water suppliers who implement those standards”. The act was passed by congress in 1974 to provide security and public health by modifying the nation’s public drinking water supply. EPA also mentions how the law was amended in 1986 as well as 1996 and requires many actions to protect drinking water. Different drinking water supplies include rivers, lakes, reservoirs, springs, and ground water wells which all need to be regulated to satisfy human drinking needs.

    There was once focus and one expected outcome from the SDWA, which was of course, to have clean sanitary drinking water for humans. Environmental Science and Technology says that “Prior to the passage of the first SDWA in 1974, the U.S. Public Health Service established guidelines that the states generally used in developing their own state-level regulations. These early guidelines were important in promoting filtration and reliable chlorine disinfection as part of the multi-barrier concept for drinking water treatment in the early 1900s”. This advance was responsible for the near elimination of waterborne diseases in the United States by the 1940s. These diseases were responsible for 35,000 deaths in the United States. In the 1940s was the highest point of deaths due to waterborne diseases. According to EPA, “Millions of Americans receive high quality drinking water every day from their public water systems, (which may be publicly or privately owned). There are currently more than 160,000 public water systems providing water to almost all Americans at some time in their lives”. SDWA applies to every public or private water system in the United States. Drinking water safety cannot be taken for granted; it once was responsible for 35 percent of the deaths in the 1940’s.

    There were requirements and goals in order for the act to take place. Edward Calabrese mentions that one requirement was to address contaminants as groups rather than one at a time so that enhancement of drinking water protection can be achieved cost-effectively. Another was to foster development of new drinking water technologies to address health risks posed by a broad array of contaminants. The last he mentions was to use the authority of multiple statutes to help protect drinking water. Partner with states to develop shared access to all public water systems monitoring data. These all helped the act to actually take place. Congress was responsible for implementing the legislation. HienOnline mentions when Congress enacted the Safe Drinking Water Acting 1974, it gave the EPA the authority to set national standards governing the maximum acceptable levels of water-contaminates in public water systems. Section 300f of the Safe Drinking Water Act mandates guidelines of any contaminate that may adversely affect human health, “in the judgment of the Administrator.” The Safe Drinking Water Act also authorizes states to create specific regulations to protect their underground drinking water sources as long as each state wishing to create its own regulatory administration must incorporate a plan to regulate industrial underground extraction processes known as “underground injection control” programs.

    Most industrial withdrawal processes involve the injection of “propping agents,” such as sand, water, nitrogen, and diesel fuel into underground gas or oil reservoirs to allow the fluids to flow toward the collection and production chambers fast and efficiently. The Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974 didn’t remain the same way for all the years to come. As mentioned earlier, the Safe Drinking Water Act was amended in 1986 as well as 1996. The amendment in 1986 according to Dan Tarlock, required EPA to regulate more than 80 contaminants in drinking water within three years, and, after that, at least 25 more by 1991. It also required that some water systems using surface water sources to use filtration treatment under appropriate circumstance. It required certain water systems using groundwater sources to use disinfection treatment.

    The new amendment called for EPA to enforce new monitoring requirements on public water systems for contaminants not yet regulated. It also provided for a demonstration program to protect critical portions of chosen aquifers. Some states were required to come up with programs for protecting areas around wells supplying public drinking water systems. The amendment also called for EPA to issue new rules for monitoring wells injecting wastes below drinking water sources, and report to Congress on other types of injection wells. In addition, it prohibited use of lead solders, flux and pipes in public water systems which would later become another act. Lastly it authorized EPA to treat Indian tribes as states and delegate primary enforcement responsibility to them for safe drinking water. The Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996 recognized a new agreement for the nation’s public water systems, states, and the Environmental Protection Agency in protecting the safety of drinking water. According to Dan Tarlock, the 1996 amendments symbolized a shift in drinking water policy from a regulatory schedule to addressing the most significant remaining drinking water risks first and optimizing risk reduction to the public. “The 1996 Amendments essentially changed the process for identifying new contaminants for regulation and the standard-setting process” Tarlock states.

    Section 1412(b)(1)(A) of the 1996 SDWA details the three criteria for identification of new contaminants for regulation: “1. The contaminant may have an adverse health effect; 2. The contaminant is known or likely to occur at levels of public health concern; and 3. Regulation provides a meaningful opportunity for health risk reduction.” The amendments include other things such as new prevention approaches, enhanced consumer information, ways to progress the regulatory program, and funding for states and local water systems.

    I personally think that the Safe Drinking Water Act should have been brought up way before 1974. I’m sure the technology was available before that. I also found it to be so crazy how many deaths were related to waterborne diseases. I could’ve imagined it happening in third world countries but not in the United States. At least, the quality of water has improved greatly from what it was forty years ago, and I’m satisfied with that. Also, a lot of us take for granted what we have. There are a lot of countries that still, to this day, don’t have sanitary drinking water.

    As we have seen, the quality of our water has come a long way in the past forty years especially the drastic changes in 1974 and the amendments of 1986 and 1996. Every American should have the right to sanitary water, and the Safe Drinking Water Act has forever changed that. There have been plenty of changes and there will probably be even more as things change every day.

    Our tap water is clean to drink and most of us don’t know what it took for it to be this way.

    The Safe Drinking Water Act. (2016, Aug 19). Retrieved from

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