Standard Article

Chemical Drinking Water Standards, Past, Present, and Future

Municipal Water Supply

  1. Patrick Sullivan,
  2. Franklin Agardy

Published Online: 15 JUL 2005

DOI: 10.1002/047147844X.mw1701

Water Encyclopedia

Water Encyclopedia

How to Cite

Sullivan, P. and Agardy, F. 2005. Chemical Drinking Water Standards, Past, Present, and Future. Water Encyclopedia. 1:529–534.

Author Information

  1. Forensic Management Association, San Mateo, California

Publication History

  1. Published Online: 15 JUL 2005


In today's chemically dependent society, studies undeniably demonstrate that America's drinking water contains numerous industrial chemicals, pesticides, and pharmaceuticals, as well as chemicals from water treatment processes. Each of these chemicals is allowed in drinking water because it is either (1) regulated by federal drinking water standards, which allow concentrations to a defined level, or (2) because many chemicals remain unregulated. Regulated chemicals are known to be hazardous to humans at high concentrations, yet are deemed safe for human consumption at low concentrations based on risk models that are unsupported by validated human studies or consider the risk of consuming mixtures of chemicals. Meanwhile, a vast number of potentially hazardous chemicals exist in our drinking water that remain unregulated. The ability for the USEPA to regulate chemicals in drinking water when the nation's chemical industry produces an estimated 2,000 new chemical compounds each year would seem impossible and, indeed, is impossible under the existing system. Currently, the USEPA must determine whether to regulate not less than five new chemicals from a proposed list of 42 chemicals, which do not even include pharmaceuticals, for inclusion within the drinking water standards. This approach demonstrates that drinking water standards are incapable of keeping pace with the number of unregulated chemicals that are found in our drinking water. When this failure is combined with the fact that standards are not even based on actual human toxicity studies, drinking water standards cannot be relied on to protect the public health. The alternative is to switch to technology-based standards with the goal of removing the maximum amount of chemical pollutants. As the public becomes more aware of the hazards in their drinking water, they will have no recourse but to turn to litigation to redress these failings. The alternative, continued reliance on drinking water standards to protect the public health, will only perpetuate a false sense of security. Sadly, if federal, state, and local governments cannot effect a change to technology-based standards, this issue may ultimately be settled by litigation.


  • drinking water standards;
  • pharmaceuticals;
  • contaminant candidate list;
  • water treatment;
  • fingerprint;
  • contaminant;
  • hormones;
  • antioxidants;
  • detergents;
  • plasticizers;
  • hydrocarbons;
  • halogenated;
  • pesticides;
  • antiboiotics;
  • industrial chemicals;
  • disinfection