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Drinking Water


Drinking water and health…. 

On average, each person consumes more than a quart of water each day. As a result, drinking water is a potentially significant route of exposure to hazardous substances. The presence of contaminants in water can lead to adverse health effects, including gastrointestinal illness, reproductive problems and neurological disorders. 

In Oregon, about 88% percent of the population (3,151,979 of 3,583,027 residents) obtains their primary drinking water from a community water system. The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (U.S. EPA) sets regulations for treating and monitoring drinking water delivered by community water systems for over 90 contaminants under the Safe Drinking Water Act. Typically, EPA establishes Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) standards that will protect the public’s health. The primary means of preventing health problems due to contaminants in drinking water is to ensure that drinking water meets or exceeds these standards.

State agencies, water suppliers, and water engineers work together to help to ensure that drinking water contamination levels are as low as possible by protecting water sources, treating drinking water to remove contaminants, and monitoring water quality to identify problems as quickly as possible. Ultimately, maintaining the highest quality drinking water depends on protecting our lakes, rivers and aquifers from contamination.

Although community water systems in the U.S. provide among the highest quality drinking water in the world, some contaminants are present at low levels, and it is still possible that drinking water can become contaminated at higher levels. C ontamination can come from both natural and man-made sources.  

The Oregon EPHT program collects information about the levels of three contaminants in drinking water: nitrate, arsenic, and disinfection byproducts. These contaminants were selected because they have occurred more frequently in drinking water at levels which may be of public health significance.

Previous indicator initiatives have focused on public water system compliance at the national level, but few have examined using state-specific contaminant data to track trends and to integrate environmental information with health effect data for potential relationships between drinking water quality and human health. EPHT surveillance of drinking water aims to improve the availability of quality data, identify priority issues and contaminants, and develop surveillance measures that are consistent with national goals. Ultimately, tracking drinking water contaminants will help practitioners improve decisions that protect public health.