What Is Legally Safe Drinking Water?

I happened upon an article about North Carolina residents who were being told not to wash their clothes in the city’s water.

It was reported that the water in a North Carolina town was- safe to drink, but clothes should not be washed in it.

In the article, I caught a strange phrase saying that: the water was “legally safe” to drink.

I just had to know, what makes water legally safe to drink?

What conditions would make water not legally safe to drink?

Let’s find out!

The Safe Water Drinking Act

Legally safe drinking water, in America, started with the Safe Water Drinking Act in 1974.

The Safe Water Drinking Act was established to set a standard on the quality of water. The laws under the Safe Water Drinking Act (SWDA) were designed to focus on regulations which covered water that would be used for drinking.

The standards set forth factors that would define what water is legally safe to drink. It is more focused than the Clean Water Act, which was designed to keep all waters clean, and limit pollution in all waterways.

Brief History of the Safe Water Drinking Act

The originial SWDA, which was started in 1974, primarily focused on water treatment as a means to make drinking water safe.

In 1996, amendments were passed which expanded the original SWDA and protected drinking water from “source to tap”. It introduced methods for protecting water sources from pollution.

The 1996 Amendment:

  • Required community water systems to prepare annual reports.
  • Required that the EPA: conduct cost-benefit for all future standards set for drinking water.
  • Issued revolving funds for states to: upgrade drinking water infrastructure.
  • Strengthened protections against microbial contaminants
  • Required water system operators to become certified
  • Expanded consumer awareness of safe drinking water and water treatment operations
  • Assessed drinking water sources for contamination and threats to contamination

It’s true, most of the regulations regarding what is considered legally safe drinking water come from the 1996 amendments to the SWDA, and the standards haven’t changed much since that day.

However, new treatment standards for contamination are regularly being created.

What Water Does the SWDA Regulate?

The legally safe drinking water standard set forth in the SWDA regulates all drinking water facilities, and wells, that supply 25 or more individuals with drinking water.

It divides water facilities into three different categories and regulates each differently.

The three categories of drinking water facility are:

  • Community Water Systems
  • Non-Community Water Systems
    • Non-Transient Non-Community Water Systems
    • Transient Non-Community Water Systems

Of the three major types of drinking water systems, we will just focus on one. For the purposes of this article, we will be focusing on the “legally safe” drinking water standards set forth for: Community Water Systems.

Community Water Systems

A community water system, as set forth by the EPA, is a public water system which serves the same people year round.

These include the water systems you would find in the following:

  • Homes
  • Apartment Buildings
  • Condominiums
  • Cities
  • Small Towns
  • Mobile Home Parks

All of the water systems which supply legally safe drinking water to the above communities are governed by the same EPA standards.

How Drinking Water Standards are set:

Drinking water standards are set through a three step process

Step 1: The EPA identifies contaminants which may adversely affect public health. Then it studies the contaminant to see if it should regulate.

Step 2: The EPA determines the maximum level of the contaminant that can be allowed in the drinking water for it to remain legally safe.

Step 3: The EPA specifies the level of contaminant allowed, and sets a standard for all drinking water facilities to follow.

What is Legally Safe Drinking Water?

Now we have an overview of who sets the standards for legally safe drinking water, as well as how those standards are regulated and set.

We can begin to look into what actually makes water legally safe to drink.

It’s a lot of information, so I can’t cover it all here. There are links to all of the sources below, and I encourage you to look into it further. But here is the gist of what defines legally safe drinking water.

6 Types of Regulated Drinking Water Contaminants

There are 6 types of contaminants which the EPA regulates in drinking water. These are:

  • Microorganisms
  • Disinfectants
  • Disinfection Byproducts
  • Inorganic Chemicals
  • Organic Chemicals
  • Radionuclides

Look, as you can imagine, there is no shortage of these contaminants and the acceptable levels of them. I highly recommend you download the PDF made by the EPA linked below.

National Primary Drinking Water Regulations Complete Table (PDF)

It is too much information for one article, but it is definitely worth a look.

Here’s the deal, though it won’t all be covered here, I caught a few interesting facts in the EPA’s own writing that I wanted to touch on for a moment.

Fluoride in the drinking water

In my opinion, and the opinion of many people, there should not be fluoride in the drinking water.

Yet, almost all drinking water is treated with some level of fluoride!

Though many argue it is safe, the EPA limits its presence in water to 4mg/L, and even lists it as toxic in its own paper chart. So, why is it being added to the water?

I’m not going to get intoit right now, but it is an interesting topic onto itself. And, it is probably something that should not be being added to legally safe drinking water.

Glyphosate In the Drinking Water

Another odd note that I caught is the acceptable level of glyphosate in the drinking water. It wasn’t so much interesting to me because it was on the list, it was that the EPA labels the potential health hazards, saying it causes: “kidney problems; reproductive difficulties“.

Now, where did they get that information from?

Despite many people searching for Roundup exposure lawyers, Glyphosate is still touted as being totally safe. But, according to the EPA in standards set in 2009, glyphosate is more toxic than fluoride; only permitting 7mg/L to be present in drinking water.

One final point, Atrazine, another herbicide said to be completely safe, is listed here too. Saying that Atrazine causes” cardiovascular system and reproductive problems”

I really want to know where they are getting this information from and why it is so hard for the public to find.

What’s the Bottom Line on Legally Safe Drinking Water?

There are hundreds of potential contaminants in drinking water. It is a big task to limit, and determine, just how much of a contaminant should be allowed. This is just an overlay of the laws which determine if water is “legally safe” to drink.

All in all, apart from the adding of fluoride to drinking water, the EPA does a pretty good job regulating drinking water. From the EPA to the regulations of the USDA, it is not perfect, but it’s the government. What did you expect?

Did you catch anything odd in the EPA’s standards you wanted to point out?

Share it with us in the comments!

More Resources on Safe Drinking Water:

Drinking Water Contaminants – Standards and Regulations

Safe Water Drinking Act

Understanding the Safe Drinking Water Act

Drinking Water Laws and New Rules

Further Reading on Healing Law

History of the Letter J

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