Purity and security rank high among concerns about drinking water. Through regular sampling and analysis, environmental laboratories safeguard supplies from contamination, unintentional or otherwise.

Laboratories ensure water testing, review improvements, and conduct inspections and sanitary surveys. They provide training and technical assistance, and take action when standards go unmet. APHL acts as liaison between the labs and the Environmental Protection Agency, and trains members how to prevent and, if necessary, respond effectively to terrorism that targets drinking water. 

Environmental Labs Safeguard Public Drinking Water

Approximately 240 million Americans get their drinking water from public water systems. Working in collaboration with the EPA, state environmental laboratories protect the public’s drinking water by conducting regular water sampling and water quality analysis. State drinking water programs that implement the Safe Drinking Water Act ensure that water systems test for contaminants, review plans for water system improvements, conduct on-site inspections and sanitary surveys. They also provide training and technical assistance and take action against water systems not meeting standards.     

Terrorism and Natural Disaster Preparedness

In the wake of 9/11 and natural disasters such as Superstorm Sandy, water security and safety is a major concern of state environmental laboratories. Collaborating with EPA, laboratories are enhancing their ability to respond to unintentional and intentional water contamination. APHL is working with EPA’s Water Laboratory Alliance, to help environmental laboratories address water security concerns and prepare for natural and man-made disasters.

Health Effects of Contaminants

Contaminants can cause two types of health effects: acute or chronic. Acute effects occur immediately (within hours or days) after a person drinks a contaminant. Microbes, such as bacteria and viruses, in drinking water are often causes of acute reactions because they have a high probability of reaching high enough levels to cause this effect.

Chronic effects occur after a person has been exposed to a contaminant for many years. In drinking water chronic health effects are typically caused by contaminants such as chemicals, radioactive substances (such as radium), and minerals (such as arsenic compounds). 

Who is Responsible for Drinking Water Quality?

The Environmental Protection Agency, through the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), is responsible for drinking water quality. The EPA sets standards for over 80 contaminants that may occur in drinking water and which pose a potential risk to human health. EPA works with local governments and private water suppliers that have direct responsibility for the quality of the water that consumers drink. They test and treat this water and report on its quality to the state.

For more information, contact Sarah Wright, MS, senior specialist, Environmental Health, 240.485.2730, sarah.wright@aphl.org.