June 19, 1986: 1986 SDWA Amendments Became Law 1865: NYC Sanitary Survey;

0619 1986 SDWA amendmentsJune 19, 1986: June 19, 1986: The 1986 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act became law. “The 1986 SDWA amendments required EPA to apply future NPDWRs to both community and non-transient non-community water systems when it evaluated and revised current regulations. The first case in which this was applied was the “Phase I” final rule, published on July 8, 1987. At that time NPDWRs were promulgated for certain synthetic volatile organic compounds and applied to non-transient non-community water systems as well as community water systems. This rulemaking also clarified that non-transient non-community water systems were not subject to MCLs that were promulgated before July 8, 1987. The 1986 amendments were signed into law by President Ronald Reagan on June 19, 1986.

In addition to requiring more contaminants to be regulated, the 1986 amendments included:

  • Well head protection
  • New monitoring for certain substances
  • Filtration for certain surface water systems
  • Disinfection for certain groundwater systems
  • Restriction on lead in solder and plumbing
  • More enforcement powers.”

Commentary: The 1986 amendments arose out of Congress’s frustration with how slow EPA was adopting regulations under the original 1974 Safe Drinking Water Act. The 1986 amendments were prescriptive in that the law told EPA what it had to do and set strict time limits for the requirements to be accomplished. One provision that was doomed from the start was the requirement for EPA to set 25 new maximum contaminant levels every three years. This problem would be fixed in the 1996 amendments.

Note the timing of these two blog posts. It took 101 years but some of the major problems identified in the sanitary survey of NYC were solved by drinking water legislation and regulation including the SDWA Amendments of 1986.

0406 Milwaukee typhoid feverJune 19, 1865: New York Times Book Review—Report of the Council of Hygiene and Public Health of the Citizens’ Association of New York Upon the Sanitary Condition of the City. “At last we have a reliable report upon the social condition of New-York City; a report, moreover, that is no common one; no more compilation of statistical data, overpowering with figures and perplexing with misstatements. This is a book demanding and arresting attention; a live book; remarkable, not more for the extent of research and magnitude of labor involved in its preparation, than for the public spirit it represents and whereof it is the offspring….

The report before us, however, does not hinge on hearsay or repeat misrepresentations. Its facts are hard, palpable; its deductions convincing, its arguments unanswerable. They are the production not of an individual or a committee, but of an agency which may be called ubiquitous, since its operations penetrated every [part] of our city, and its personal scrutiny progressed, almost simultaneously, in every neighborhood. A retrospect of the actual labor performed by that agency would embrace the social and sanitary history of half a million of our people.”

Here is a 21st century analysis. “New York City Sanitary Survey reports a death rate of 33 per thousand (compared to Philadelphia at 20 and London at 22). Public health had deteriorated to conditions like those of London two centuries earlier said Dr. John Griscom, who wrote the first sanitary report in 1844. The 1865 report shocked the city: Domestic garbage, filth and the refuse of bedrooms of those sick with typhoid fever, scarlet fever and smallpox is frequently thrown into the streets, there to contaminate the air, and no doubt aid in the spread of these pestilential diseases. Some 18,000 people are living in cellars below the high water mark. ‘At high tide the water often wells up through the floors, submerging them to a considerable depth. In very many cases, the vaults of privies (latrines) are situated on the same or a higher level, and their contents frequently ooze through the walls into the occupied apartments beside them.’ As a cholera epidemic sweeps the city, the mayor of NY refuses to call together the aldermen who constituted the old Board of Health, maintaining that they are more dangerous to the city than the disease itself.”

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