The Safe Drinking Water Act
The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) was passed by Congress in 1974, with subsequent amendments in 1986 and 1996, to ensure and protect the quality of Americans’ drinking water. Under SDWA, the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is given authority to set the standards for drinking water quality and oversee states, localities, and water suppliers who implement those standards.
Through the SDWA, all public water systems in the United States need to follow the standards and regulations set by the EPA. The EPA has set maximum contaminant levels and/or treatment technique requirements for over 90 different contaminants in public drinking water, including microorganisms, disinfectants, disinfections by-products, inorganic chemicals, organic chemicals, and radionuclides.
Further EPA information on drinking water regulations and contaminants:
- National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWR)
- These regulations are legally enforceable standards that apply to public water systems. Primary standards protect public health by limiting the levels of contaminants in drinking water.
- National Secondary Drinking Water Regulations (NSDWR)
- These regulations are non-enforceable guidelines regulating contaminants that may cause cosmetic effects (such as skin or tooth discoloration) or aesthetic effects (such as taste, odor, or color) in drinking water. EPA recommends secondary standards to water systems but does not require systems to comply. However, states may choose to adopt them as enforceable standards.
- Unregulated Contaminants
- The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) includes a process that the EPA must follow to identify and list unregulated contaminants which may require a national drinking water regulation in the future. EPA must periodically publish this list of contaminants (called the "Contaminant Candidate List" or CCL) and decide whether to regulate at least five or more contaminants on the list (called "Regulatory Determinations"). EPA uses this list of unregulated contaminants to prioritize research and data collection efforts to help us determine whether we should regulate a specific contaminant. For more information, visit EPA’s Drinking Water Contaminant Candidate List and Regulatory Determinations.
What About Bottled Water?
The Safe Drinking Water Act does not apply to bottled water. Bottled water is not regulated by the EPA, but by the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA). For more information on bottled water, visit one of the following:
- Commercially Bottled Water (CDC)
- Bottled Water Regulations (FDA)
- Bottled Water Basics (EPA) [PDF - 1.39 mb]