Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996

The Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments, which passed Congress and were signed into law by the President on August 6, 1996, will enhance the purity of drinking water by focusing resources on those contaminants that pose the greatest risk to human health, giving consumers more information about their drinking water than ever before, and providing States and local water authorities with the resources they need to get the job done.

Before passage of this legislation, the EPA and local water authorities were on a "regulatory treadmill" -- the Agency was required to issue regulations on 25 new contaminants every three years, without regard to the toxicity of individual contaminants or how likely they would appear in community's water supply. Local water systems, in turn, were required to test for all regulated contaminants -- even if they've never been detected in that water supply or are unlikely to ever appear -- at tremendous, often prohibitive cost.

The Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments give the EPA flexibility to focus on the most dangerous contaminants -- those that pose the greatest risk to human health and that are the most likely to occur. The arbitrary regulatory deadlines in previous laws were replaced with language directing regulators to focus on real, documented threats based on the best available scientific evidence. EPA is empowered to balance risks and prioritize in setting water standards. All systems, particularly smaller ones (for which the arbitrary mandates have been the most cumbersome) will be empowered to request State monitoring waivers for those contaminants that have never been found and are likely to ever occur. Additionally, EPA is directed to identify new, less-expensive technologies, and to take into account the ability of smaller systems to comply. Finally, the law provides for fast and easy to understand public notification of any violations.


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