Water Standards

Why Does EPA Allow “Acceptable Amounts” of Toxic Chemicals In Drinking Water In the United States?

If something is toxic, you probably don’t want it in your water. So why does the government allow small levels of potentially harmful chemicals in water? Currently, the EPA has in place unenforceable water quality goals (MCLG’s) and enforceable drinking water standards (MCL’s). So, what does MCLG stand for? It means the concentration of a contaminant that does not pose any known health risk to humans.

MCLG’s and MCL’s are established with the best of intentions: to monitor and regulate water pollution effects in order to keep you safe and healthy. However, the frequent discrepancy between the guideline (MCLG) and the enforceable standard (MCL) indicates that other factors play a significant role. The legal goals and limits set are most times determined by economic and political factors in order to reduce costs. Science and new technologies improve our understanding of effects of contaminated water on human health, so contaminant level standards may evolve; but implementing regulations to protect people from chemicals in water takes a longer time. So, chemicals in water may be classified under MCLG deemed “safe”; however, new science may show different in the future.

On December 11th, 2018, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) unveiled its proposal to slash federal clean water safeguards. The proposal has been nick named “Dirty Water Act” due to the EPA’s proposal to exclude at least half of the nation’s wetlands, along with millions of miles of streams, from protection under the Clean Water Act. This proposal would disable numerous protections in the law, including programs that limit the discharge of toxic pollutants which are huge sources of water contaminants. The agencies acknowledge their proposal will increase the risks of drinking water contamination and pollution of water bodies where people swim and fish, but refuse to identify the degree or severity of those harms.

Drinking Water for millions of Americans: Our drinking water sources are increasingly threatened by the impacts of environmental changes, outdated and deteriorating infrastructure, and growing pollution from unregulated contaminants and industrial sources. The proposal will weaken protections for drinking water sources at the time when we need to do more to protect our water.