A History of the Safe Drinking Water Act

Forty years ago last month, President Gerald Ford signed into law the Safe Drinking Water Act, a program to ensure safe drinking water was available to all Americans. Below is a brief history of how this legislation has changed over the years.

March 8, 1973

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) issued a press release supporting the Safe Drinking Water Act. Testifying before the House Subcommittee on Public Health and the Environment, Deputy Administrator Robert W. Fry said, “Deficiencies among the nation’s drinking water supply systems and surveillance programs have been well-documented….”  He stated the proposed Safe Drinking Water Act would provide an effective solution to the problem of providing safe drinking water to the public.

Dec. 16, 1974

President Ford signed the Safe Drinking Water Act into law. This put into motion a new national program to reclaim and ensure the purity of the water the nation consumes.

Dec. 18, 1974

Russell Train, EPA administrator, names 80 cities that the EPA will include in its national reconnaissance of drinking water systems to determine concentrations, sources and potential dangers of certain organic chemicals in municipal drinking water supplies.

June 19, 1986

President Ronald Reagan signed the 1986 amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act. These amendments created a demonstration program to protect aquifers from pollutants; mandated state-developed critical wellhead protection programs; required the development of drinking water standards for many unregulated contaminants; and strengthened the EPA’s enforcement powers in dealing with noncompliant water systems and underground injection well operators. It also imposed a ban on lead-content plumbing materials.

Nov. 1, 1988

President Reagan signed into law the following legislation:

  • Lead Contamination Control Act of 1988, which dealt with the recall of all lead-lined drinking water coolers
  • Asbestos Information Act, which required asbestos manufacturers to submit information on asbestos to the EPA.

May 19, 1992

The EPA approved new standards to limit contamination of drinking water by 23 chemicals. This raised the total number of drinking water standards to 84.

These 23 chemicals included nine pesticides, five inorganic chemicals and nine synthetic organic chemicals. Five of the 23 contaminants were suspected carcinogens. Dioxin, beryllium, cyanide and antimony were included.

Aug. 6, 1996

President Bill Clinton signed the Safe Drinking Water Act of 1996 into law. This act:

  • Provided strengthened protections to assure Americans have clean, safe tap water;
  • Gave Americans the right to know about the contaminants in their tap water;
  • Set schedules for developing standards for microbial contaminants like cryptosporidium;
  • Mandated technical assistance to help water systems nationwide;
  • Provided money to upgrade drinking water systems, and
  • Set forth measures to prevent pollution of drinking water sources.

The 1996 amendments were the last major change to the Safe Drinking Water Act.

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