September 15, 1998: The National Academy of Sciences (NAS) Report on Radon in Drinking Water “Risk Assessment of Radon in Drinking Water” was released on this date. The report is touted as the most comprehensive accumulation of scientific data on the public health risks of radon in drinking water. The report was required by the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The NAS report confirmed that radon is a serious public health threat and goes on to refine the risks of radon in drinking water–confirmed that there are drinking water related cancer deaths, primarily due to lung cancer. The report, in general, confirmed earlier EPA scientific conclusions and analyses for drinking water, and presented no major changes to EPA’s 1994 risk assessment.
September 11, 2001: The terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001 in New York and Washington, D.C. catapulted drinking water security to the forefront. In 2002, the U.S. Congress enacted the Public Health Security and Bioterrorism Preparedness and Response Act. With respect to water supplies, this legislation amended the Safe Drinking Water Act and specified actions that community water systems and the EPA must take to improve the security of the nation’s drinking-water infrastructure. Vulnerability Assessments were conducted at hundreds of drinking water installations across the U.S.
August 6, 1996: The 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act became law. “In 1996, Congress amended the Safe Drinking Water Act to emphasize sound science and risk-based standard setting, small water supply system flexibility and technical assistance, community-empowered source water assessment and protection, public right-to-know, and water system infrastructure assistance through a multi-billion-dollar state revolving loan fund. The amendments were signed into law by President Bill Clinton on August 6, 1996.
Main points of the 1996 amendments
- Consumer Confidence Reports: All community water systems must prepare and distribute annual reports about the water they provide, including information on detected contaminants, possible health effects, and the water’s source.
- Cost-Benefit Analysis: EPA must conduct a thorough cost-benefit analysis for every new standard to determine whether the benefits of a drinking water standard justify the costs.
- Drinking Water State Revolving Fund. States can use this fund to help water systems make infrastructure or management improvements or to help systems assess and protect their source water.
- Microbial Contaminants and Disinfection Byproducts: EPA is required to strengthen protection for microbial contaminants, including cryptosporidium, while strengthening control over the byproducts of chemical disinfection. EPA promulgated the Stage 1 Disinfectants and Disinfection Byproducts Rule and the Interim Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule to address these risks.
- Operator Certification: Water system operators must be certified to ensure that systems are operated safely. EPA issued guidelines in 1999 specifying minimum standards for the certification and recertification of the operators of community and non-transient, noncommunity water systems. These guidelines apply to state operator certification programs. All states are currently implementing EPA-approved operator certification programs.
- Public Information and Consultation: SDWA emphasizes that consumers have a right to know what is in their drinking water, where it comes from, how it is treated, and how to help protect it. EPA distributes public information materials (through its Drinking Water Hotline, Safewater web site, and Resource Center) and holds public meetings, working with states, tribes, water systems, and environmental and civic groups, to encourage public involvement.
- Small Water Systems: Small water systems are given special consideration and resources under SDWA, to make sure they have the managerial, financial, and technical ability to comply with drinking water standards.”
Commentary: These amendments established the essential law that water utilities must currently adhere to through compliance with the regulations promulgated under it.
June 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.
June 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.”
January 22, 2001: Final Rule for Arsenic in Drinking Water. “Today’s final rule revises the current Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) from 50 µg/L to 10 µg/L and sets a Maximum Contaminant Level Goal (MCLG) of zero for arsenic in drinking water. In addition, this final rule also clarifies how compliance is demonstrated for many inorganic and organic contaminants in drinking water…. Both community water systems (CWSs) and non-transient, non-community water systems (NTNCWSs) will be required to reduce the arsenic concentration in their drinking water systems to 10 µg/L…. All CWSs and all NTNCWSs that exceed the MCL of 10 µg/L will be required to come into compliance 5 years after the publication of the final rule. Beginning with reports that are due by July 1, 2002, all CWSs will begin providing health information and arsenic concentrations in their annual consumer confidence report (CCR) for water that exceeds ½ the new MCL….
In the 1996 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), Congress directed EPA to propose a new arsenic regulation by January 1, 2000 and to issue the final rule by January 1, 2001 (Congress subsequently extended the final rule date to June 22, 2001). EPA published the proposed rule for arsenic on June 22, 2000. The rule proposed an MCL of 5 µg/L for arsenic and EPA took comment on regulatory options of 3 µg/L (the feasible level), 10 µg/L and 20 µg/L. The 1996 amendments to SDWA added discretionary authority for the EPA Administrator to adjust the maximum contaminant level (MCL) if the benefits would not justify the costs (§1412(b)(6)). Today’s rule is important because it is the second drinking water regulation in which EPA will use the discretionary authority under §1412(b)(6) of SWDA. After careful consideration of the benefits and the costs, EPA has decided to set the drinking water standard for arsenic higher than the technically feasible level of 3 µg/L because EPA believes that the costs would not justify the benefits at this level. EPA believes that the final MCL of 10 µg/L maximizes health risk reduction at a cost justified by the benefits.”
December 16, 1974: Safe Drinking Water Act signed into law by President Ford. “The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) is the principal federal law in the United States intended to ensure safe drinking water for the public. Pursuant to the act, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is required to set standards for drinking water quality and oversee all states, localities, and water suppliers who implement these standards.
SDWA applies to every public water system in the United States. There are currently more than 150,000 public water systems providing water to almost all Americans at some time in their lives. These water systems must be analyzed by third-party analytical laboratories. The Act does not cover private wells [or bottled water].”
“To ensure that drinking water is safe, SDWA sets up multiple barriers against pollution. These barriers include: source water protection, treatment, distribution system integrity, and public information. Public water systems are responsible for ensuring that contaminants in tap water do not exceed the standards. Water systems treat the water, and must test their water frequently for specified contaminants and report the results to states. If a water system is not meeting these standards, it is the water supplier’s responsibility to notify its customers. Many water suppliers now are also required to prepare annual reports for their customers. The public is responsible for helping local water suppliers to set priorities, make decisions on funding and system improvements, and establish programs to protect drinking water sources. Water systems across the nation rely on citizen advisory committees, rate boards, volunteers, and civic leaders to actively protect this resource in every community in America.”
December 5, 1782: Martin Van Buren, 8th President of the U.S., is born. In the collective mind of “Mental Floss,” Van Buren is famous for his toilet. “When he lost his 1840 reelection bid in a landslide to war hero William Henry Harrison—Van Buren picked up only six states in the electoral college, and not even his home state, New York—the lame duck could then turn his attention to the Lindenwald estate, which was eventually expanded into 36 rooms including a wine cellar, six family bedrooms, one formal guest room, servants’ quarters and one toilet.
As you might have guessed, this wasn’t just any old toilet. Restored to what is believed to be its original appearance, Van Buren’s throne is tucked away on the first floor in a closet-size room, part of a larger bathroom that accommodates the president’s original six-foot long bathtub. The toilet bowl itself is made from fine china, set inside a giant frame made of wood. A 100-gallon water tank, connected to a pump in the basement kitchen, is installed above that frame. (It’s worth noting that the servants quarters had their own indoor outhouse, and two gate houses on the property probably had outhouses.)
A killer innovation for its time, Van Buren introduced the whole town to the concept of the indoor toilet (most were accustomed to bearing the cold in an outhouse) and, according to Dawn Olson of the National Park Service, to the ‘novel idea to have running water and indoor plumbing in the 1850s.’”
December 5, 1974: Sixty Minutes, the popular television news program on the CBS Television Network aired the segment “Caution, Drinking Water may be Dangerous to Your Health.” Dan Rather was the reporter for the segment. The program and the concerns with 66 trace organic chemicals in New Orleans water supply and the Consumer Reports articles on cancer deaths and use of Mississippi River water for water supplies ultimately led to the passage of the Safe Drinking Water Act. President Gerald Ford signed the legislation into law before the end of the year.
December 5, 1926: Claude Monet dies. (14 November 1840 – 5 December 1926) “He was a founder of French impressionist painting, and the most consistent and prolific practitioner of the movement’s philosophy of expressing one’s perceptions before nature, especially as applied to plein-air landscape painting…. Monet was fond of painting controlled nature: his own gardens in Giverny, with its water lilies, pond, and bridge. He also painted up and down the banks of the Seine, producing paintings such as Break-up of the ice on the Seine.” Perhaps Monet’s most famous series of paintings is his Water Lilies