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Safe Drinking Water

Safe Drinking Water Standards: What You Need To Know

There is nothing more essential than accessible and clean filtered drinking water.  

Human beings need to drink 2 liters of safe drinking water every day, on average. 

But in spite of our universal demand for safe drinking water, one in every nine people doesn’t have access today. This amounts to over 840 million people. 

And when unsafe water spreads diseases like diarrhea, cholera, and diphtheria, people die.

So what, exactly, constitutes "safe drinking water"?

To help prevent the loss of life due to unsafe drinking water, government bodies and international associations have designed specific quality criteria for drinking water.

Together, these criteria form the basic minimum parameters required for drinking water to be considered “safe for consumption.”

In this article, we walk you through the various guidelines and criteria used across the world to ensure safe drinking water is available for all.

Australian Drinking Water Guidelines

Safe Drinking Water

Last year, Australian National Health and Medical Research Council published a list of guidelines and references for water quality to be drinkable.

Since that time, the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines have become the authority on the topic.

The agenda detailed in the ADWG intends to guarantee pure, good quality drinking water.  The state and territory health departments use ADWG to generate parameters and regulations on drinking water.

Australian Drinking Water Guidelines were developed after rigorous studies of the standards. Their Standards encompass both health-related and aesthetics concerns. In Australia, these standards are enforceable by law, and each public water treatment center must follow their orders.

European Union Drinking Water Directive

Safe Drinking Water

In 2018, the European Union (EU) and the European Environment Agency (EEA) released the Drinking Water Directive.

The Directive is based on more than 30 years of investigation. It is designed to ensure effective monitoring, supply, and quality when it comes to public drinking water in Europe.

Drinking Water Directive Applies To:

  • All water supply systems serving over 50 people or providing more than 10 percent meters each day, but also distribution systems serving less than 50 people/supplying less than 10 percent meters daily if the water is provided as part of the economic activity;
  • Drinking water using tanks.
  • Drinking water in containers or bottles;
  • Water used in the food-making companies, except the responsible national authorities are convinced that the quality of the water can't affect the healthiness of the foodstuff in its finished form.

The Drinking Water Directive Does Not Apply to:

  • Natural mineral waters acknowledged as such by the proficient national authorities, in compliance with Council Directive 80/777/EEC of 15 July 1980 on the estimate of the regulations of the Member States concerning to the misuse and selling of pure mineral waters and revoked by Directive 2009/54/EC of 18 June 2009 about the mistreatment and marketing of natural mineral waters; and
  • Waters that are medical products within the meaning of Council Directive 65/65/EEC of 26 January 1965 on the estimate of requirements lay down by law, regulation or administrative action relating to medicinal products.

EU Drinking Water Directive Parametric Standards

Safe Drinking Water Standards

Under EU legislation, no drinking water may contain toxins more than the following concentrations.

  • Arsenic: 0.01mg/L
  • Benzene: 0.01mg/L
  • Copper: 2.0mg/L
  • Cyanide: 0.05mg/L
  • Mercury: 0.001mg/L
  • Fluoride: 1.5mg/L
  • Lead: 0.01mg/L

The United States Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)

Safe Drinking Water Standards

In the US, federal laws govern drinking water all over the nation, under the SDWA (Safe Drinking Water Act). 

Thus, all public and private distributors of water must comply with the identical set of universal quality criteria. These criteria are also monitored and continually revised by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).

The EPA's drinking water standards are to safeguard public health so that diseases aren't consumed through drinking water.

In 1974, minimum water pollution standards were enforced by the SDWA. Hence, rules protect all Americans.

A summary of the SDWA can be retrieved from the EPA site.

There are three types of Public Water Systems defined in the SDWA:

Community Water Systems (CWSs)

  • Supplies water to the same population throughout the year (Such as Houses, apartment buildings)
  • Around 52,000 systems serving most the U.S. population
  • Non-Transient Non-Community Water Systems (NTNCWSs)
  • Supply water to the same group of people at least six months a year, but not annually (Such as churches, factories, schools and office buildings which have their water system)
  • about 85,000 systems

Transient Non-Community Water System (TNCWS)

  • Supply water in areas where people do not stay for extended periods (gas stations, campgrounds)
  • Around 18,000 systems

Here are the SDWA Guidelines Regarding Consumed Water Contaminants:

Contaminant Candidate List (CCL)

  • EPA builds a list of unregulated pollutants may present in drinking water.
  • Updated every five years
  • Regulatory Determination for CCL
  • Demands EPA decide whether to standardize at least five CCL contaminants using a drinking water standard every five years
  • Specifies three rules (adverse health effects, the occurrence in public water systems, the significant prospect for health risk reductions)
  • Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring
  • Requires EPA to implement criteria for a program every five years to track at least 30 contaminants

Further Water Regulation Development in the US

  • If EPA decides to manage a contaminant through the regulatory determination process, the Agency has two years from the time of this decision to propose a law and 18 months from the proposal to finalize the legislation.
  • The SDWA requires an evaluation of a range of variables in the standard setting procedure.
  • Six-Year Review
  • Every six-year, EPA is needed to review each standard and, if appropriate, update the rule.
  • Any revision must maintain or enhance public health protection
  • Any revision must maintain or enhance public health protection
  • National Contaminant Occurrence Database (NCOD)
  • EPA evaluates several factors and goes through the standard-setting procedure if a law is revised.
  • Requires EPA to build and maintain a drinking water contaminant occurrence database using information

Types of Contaminants Under the SDWA

Safe Drinking Water Standards

The SWDA expresses the term "contaminant" as signifying any physical, biological, chemical or radiological constituent or matter in present water. Hence, the legislation defines “contaminant" very broadly as being anything besides water molecules.

Drinking water can contain only a few amounts of some contaminants. Some drinking water contaminants may be hazardous to health if consumed at levels in drinking water, although others could be harmless. The presence of pollutants does not necessarily indicate that the water contains a health hazard.

Only a few of the world of contaminants as defined below are listed on the Contaminant Candidate List (CCL). The CCL functions as the first level of evaluation for drinking water contaminants that may need an additional investigation of health effects and the amount in which they present in water.

Physical Contaminants

The contaminants category that changes the look of the water, in addition to its properties, and cellular level. Anything from soil to seeds and small sticks can be included by pollutants which flow into a water source through a river or delta forming pollution.

Chemical Contaminants

The chemical Contaminants' category involves chemicals or elements. They may be inorganic or organic compounds like chemical contaminants include lead, bleach, fertilizers, and additives.

Biological Contaminants

This biological Contaminants' category describes organisms. This class covers everything from microbes to parasites. This class also include bacteria, parasites, and viruses.

Radiological Contaminants

Contaminants' category comprises elements and compounds which are unstable at the nuclear level. As a consequence of the instability, they produce harmful radiation that's detrimental to life that is biotic. Radioactive substances are plutonium and uranium.

Chinese Drinking Water Standards

Safe Drinking Water Standards

The People's Republic of China (PRC) has made obligatory national drinking water standards from the mid-1980s.

Across the nation, all citizens are subject to the same protection from the harmful chemicals present in drinking water. Updates to the drinking water standards have increased the number of examined contaminants.

Additionally, the Ministry of Health in China utilizes their drinking water criteria to apply the compliance of the water distributor by legislation.

These standards aren't only protected residents from exposure to pollutants that are harmful, but they also help to protect the public waters and rivers of China.

World Health Organization (WHO) Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality

Safe Drinking Water

The World Health Organization (WHO) is a universal organization that's dedicated to the worldwide advancement of public health.  HQ’d in Geneva, Switzerland, the WHO is an agency of the United Nations.

The WHO is dedicated to improving all aspects of human health, to the eradication of disease and the promotion of reproductive and sexual health.

In 2017, the WHO released their latest edition of the Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality (GDWQ). These set parameters to follow, although these guidelines aren't enforced by law. Instead, many countries adopt and adapt these rules to create laws.

For instance, Canadian and Chinese authorities have established drinking water legislation according to the WHO instructions.

WHO Recommended Limits

The GDWQ mentioned many substances which need to be tracked by health authorities.

Depending on the conclusions of studies, the list of WHO sets the criteria for drinking water contamination.

According to the WHO, any drinking water that exceeds these levels of pollution is unfit for human consumption.

  • Arsenic: 10ug/L
  • Barium: 10ug/L
  • Boron: 2400ug/L
  • Chromium: 50ug/L
  • Fluoride: 1500ug/L
  • Styrene: 20ug/L
  • Uranium: 30ug/L

The Dangers of Water Contamination

Safe Drinking Water

Water pollutants are the primary source of diseases that people suffer from. Serious health emergencies can happen if drinking water isn't adequately treated.

Although government bodies set out guidelines and rules for water vendors to follow. These rules are often not developed. This is because less developed countries can’t afford the costly infrastructure to provide water treatment facilities. 

Water Pollution Statistics

Safe Drinking Water Standards

It is necessary to implement proper measures for keeping the drinking water safe and to monitor water sources to ensure people are getting safe and chemical-free water at their home.

It has been estimated that millions of people die each year because they do not get safe drinking water.

Disaster can ensue when the standards for drinking water are not followed in an adequate manner.

Below are some of the statistics are — drinking water that is unsafe.

  • Three billion people don't have access to a toilet.
  • 840 million individuals don't have access to safe drinking water.
  • 30% of schools are struggling to get safe drinking water
  • 40 million school days are forfeited each year because of waterborne illness.
  • 33% of deaths would be reduced if drinking water standards were enforced globally.
  • Every 2 minutes, there’s a death of a child under five years due to Diarrhea contracted by drinking contaminated water.

The Flint Water Crisis

Safe Drinking Water

At times, even developed nations were exposed to drinking water emergencies.

The town of Flint, Michigan has experienced a significant public health crisis due to lead seeping into their water supply.

According to PBS, the Flint lead water crisis has generated a drop in fertility rates and has claimed lives.

Starting in 2014 their water supply was switched by the government in Flint to a system that used leaden pipes.

The pipes weren't adequately scrutinized, which led to chemical components. Like 2018, the crisis is continuing.

Per WHO guidelines, lead cannot exceed a concentration of 0.015 milligrams per liter of water.

In Flint's event, drinking water surpassed this concentration by several times.

This catastrophe could have been prevented using appropriate monitoring.

The Flint crisis demonstrates drinking water standards must be followed to avoid future tragedies.

Additional Resources

Ed Carmichael

About the Author Ed Carmichael

Ed is a water specialist in Tampa, FL. He built to help his friends and family learn about DIY solutions to common water quality issues in the home.

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