Water Quality in the United States
The safe and reliable water supply we enjoy across the U.S. is the result of decades of work by public and private institutions, and legislators. The essential nature of this work is the reason public water utilities, such as ours, are regulated.
But water quality isn’t something that can be taken for granted. We’re seeing that changes in our environment and the way we use water are having negative impacts on supply. And we’re more aware that what we put down our drains and throw into our rivers and lakes can have far-reaching impacts on water quality. So, the more we learn about water quality, the more we can ensure generations to come will enjoy the same quality of life we do.
Please visit the Water Quality Reports page for all testing results for your community.
The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)
In 1974, the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was passed by the U.S. Congress. Its mandate is to protect the quality of the nation’s drinking water, and it’s administered by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). The Act covers all groundwater and surface water actually or potentially destined for human consumption. All regulated water utilities are governed by the SDWA, but private wells and bottled water are not.
The SDWA sets standards for water quality by identifying potentially harmful drinking water contaminants and setting allowable limits. These federal standards must be met by state and local legislators, however; these may enact more stringent standards or include contaminants not covered by the SDWA.
National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWRs)
The ‘Primary’ contaminants below are those the EPA monitors closely for potential human health impacts. Some contaminants, like microorganisms, can appear in any water supply, while others might be specific to an area, or even a single well.
Viruses and bacteria that may come from plant and animal contact, agricultural operations, septic systems, and sewage treatment plants. These contaminants are the most likely to lead to Boil Water Advisories. Examples: coliform bacteria, cryptosporidium, enteric viruses, giardia, legionella, etc.
Disinfectants & By-products
Elements that may be used in the treatment of drinking water or produced during the treatment process. Examples: chlorine, haloacetic acids, trihalomethanes, etc.
Naturally occurring salts and metals, or from human activity, such as urban stormwater runoff, wastewater discharges, herbicides and pesticides, oil and gas production, mining, or agriculture. Examples: arsenic, copper, fluoride, lead, mercury, nitrate, nitrite, etc. Learn more about lead contamination below.
Manufactured synthetic and volatile organic chemicals, such as by-products of industrial processes, petroleum production, herbicides, pesticides, gas station discharges, urban stormwater runoff, and septic systems. Examples: benzene, dioxin, PCBs, styrene, toluene, vinyl chloride, etc. Learn more about Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) below.
Naturally occurring radioactive elements, or as the result of oil and gas production and mining activities. Examples: alpha particles, beta particles and photon emitters, radium, and uranium.
All drinking water (even bottled water) may contain minute amounts of contaminants, but their presence alone doesn’t mean they pose a health risk. In fact, in small quantities some can have health benefits and enhance water’s taste.
National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations (NSDWRs)
In addition to NPDWRs, the EPA issues guidelines for drinking water contaminants that may have aesthetic effects (taste, odor, or color), or may cause cosmetic effects in people, such as staining or discoloring skin and teeth. The EPA doesn’t require water systems to comply with these guidelines, however; states may choose to adopt and regulate them.
Contaminants of National Concern
Most chemical contaminants identified by the EPA are localized in their impact and can be traced to a single source. But two substances are more widespread. The first, the metal lead, is still present in many home plumbing systems. The second, Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS), are a new concern we’ve only just identified and beginning to understand.
Lead is a naturally occurring element, and civilizations have used it and known about its toxicity for centuries. It was used extensively in the U.S. in a variety of products such as paints, pottery, food utensils, and most notably, plumbing. It was only in the 1980s that a concerted effort to reduce and eliminate lead from the environment began.
Lead is toxic to humans and other forms of life, and the body has difficulty ridding itself of lead, so it accumulates over a person’s lifetime. But even minute amounts can pose a significant risk to human health. Lead poisoning can cause permanent damage to the brain, with pregnant women and children particularly at risk, as fetuses and children absorb lead easily and the developing brain is more vulnerable. In adults, lead can affect red blood cell production and cause kidney damage.
While you may see recommendations on how to reduce your exposure to lead, health authorities and the EPA have stated that virtually no amount of lead is considered safe, and the only definitive solution is to eliminate the source of lead entirely.
Lead in Drinking Water
Up until the 1980s, lead was commonly used in plumbing pipes, solders, and fixtures (particularly those made of brass). As these components age and corrode, greater amounts of lead leach into the water, particularly when water is left standing in pipes for longer periods.
In the late 80s, the EPA began controlling the use of lead in plumbing products, and in 1991, it issued the Lead and Copper Rule, which put in place legislation to test and control for lead in public water supplies. All regulated water utilities, such as ours, are governed by the Lead and Copper Rule. The result has been the virtual elimination of lead contamination in public water systems.
Lead continues to be a concern in areas with homes and businesses built before the late 1980s, and not having undergone more recent renovations.
More Information on Lead
Authoritative information about lead can be found on the EPA's website, including links to other resources.
Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS)
Per- and Polyfluoroalkyl Substances (PFAS) are a group of man-made chemicals that includes PFOA, PFOS, GenX, and many other chemicals. Perfluorooctanoic Acid (PFOA) and Perfluorooctane Sulfonate (PFOS) have been the most extensively produced and studied of these chemicals. Over time, both chemicals have become widely distributed in the environment and have accumulated in the blood of humans and wildlife.
PFAS have been manufactured and used around the globe since the 1940s. They were (and are) used to make carpets, clothing, fabrics for furniture, paper packaging for food and other materials (e.g., cookware) that are resistant to water, grease, or stains. They are also used in firefighting foam at airfields and in several industrial processes. They are persistent in the environment and in the human body, and humans can be exposed to these chemicals in house dust, indoor and outdoor air, food, and drinking water.
PFAS and Human Health
Most people have been exposed to PFAS and some can accumulate and stay in the body for a long time. As a result, the level of PFAS may increase to the point where it causes adverse health effects. Studies indicate that PFOA and PFOS can cause reproductive and developmental, liver and kidney, and immunological effects in laboratory animals. Both chemicals have caused tumors in animals. The most consistent findings are increased cholesterol levels among exposed populations, with more limited findings related to low infant birth weights, cancer (for PFOA), and thyroid hormone disruption (for PFOS).
U.S. EPA Guidelines
In June 2022, the EPA published four drinking water health advisories for PFAS. Health advisories identify potential human health impacts from contaminants found in water, guidance on ways to measure those contaminants, and potential treatments to remove them. The EPA has now lowered their Health Advisory Levels (HALs) for PFOA, PFOS, PFBS, and GenX chemicals.
As the U.S. EPA sets new water quality regulations, we will make necessary improvements or treatment adjustments to comply with the new standards.
What We’re Doing About PFAS in Drinking Water
We have proactively reported PFAS results annually since 2020, and your community’s results can be found on the Water Quality Reports page.
Our technical team is committed to collaborating with regulators and will continue to assess the presence of these compounds in our systems and cost-effective ways to eliminate them where they are identified.
More Information on PFAS
If you have additional questions or concerns, please contact us at PFASquestions@corix.com.