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A brief look at the Safe Drinking Water Act, its enforcement, P.1

Previously, we began looking at a national report of drinking water quality which showed that Georgia is one of the worst states in terms of the number of violations of the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. As we noted last time, the Safe Drinking Water Act is an important federal law regulating drinking water contaminants.

As part of implementing the law, the EPA maintains a table of contaminants and enforceable standards aimed at limiting the level of contaminants in drinking water. At present, around 100 contaminants found in drinking water are regulated, including metals, toxic chemicals and bacteria. These contaminants can cause various problems, from cancer to impaired brain functioning. The Safe Drinking Water Act requires the EPA to review these standards at least one every six years, as well as any new scientific evidence regarding public health risks, to determine whether any changes are needed.  

In addition to establishing minimum standards for drinking water with respect to a variety of recognized contaminants, the Safe Drinking Water Act also requires states to set minimum safety standards for protecting underground drinking water from contamination by the injection of underground fluids. Hydraulic fracturing would be an example of this kind of risk.

The primary means of monitoring compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act is state and EPA review of public water systems analyses. When levels of regulated contaminants become too high, states and the EPA work to ensure steps are taken to reduce those levels. When it comes to enforcement of the law, it happens at several levels: agency-level; state- and tribal-level; and also by private citizens. We’ll say more about this in our next post. 

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