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America's Children: Key National Indicators of Well-Being, 2013

Drinking Water Quality

Contaminants in surface and ground waters that serve as sources of drinking water may be quite varied and may cause a range of health effects in children, including acute diseases such as gastrointestinal illness, developmental effects such as learning disorders, and serious long-term illnesses such as cancer.59 The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets drinking water standards designed to protect people against adverse health effects. These standards currently include Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) and treatment technique requirements for over 90 chemical, radiological, and microbiological contaminants.60 One way to gain insight into children's potential exposure to drinking water contaminants is to look at community water system compliance with these standards. EPA's drinking water regulations require public water systems, including community water systems, to monitor for compliance with Federal health-based standards and to treat their water if needed to meet standards. About 14 percent of the population receives drinking water from private water systems that are not required to monitor and report the quality of drinking water.61

Indicator Phy3: Percentage of children served by community water systems that did not meet all applicable health-based drinking water standards, 1993–2011
Percentage of children served by community water systems that did not meet all applicable health-based drinking water standards, 1993–2011

NOTE: Revisions to the following standards were made between 2002 and 2006: disinfection byproducts (2002 for larger systems and 2004 for smaller systems), surface water treatment (2002), radionuclides (2003), and arsenic (included in the Chemical and radionuclide category, in 2006). No other revisions to the standards have taken effect during the period of trend data (beginning with 1993). Indicator values reflect the standards in place for each year depicted. Data have been revised since previous publication in America's Children. Values for years prior to 2011 have been recalculated based on updated data in the Safe Drinking Water Information System.

SOURCE: Environmental Protection Agency, Office of Water, Safe Drinking Water Information System.

  • The percentage of children served by community drinking water systems that did not meet all applicable health-based standards declined from 19 percent in 1993 to about 5 percent in 2001. Since 2002, this percentage has fluctuated between 5 and 11 percent and was 5 percent in 2011.
  • Coliforms indicate the potential presence of harmful bacteria associated with infectious illnesses. The percentage of children served by community drinking water systems that did not meet the health-based standard for total coliforms was about 10 percent in 1993 and about 2 percent in 2011.
  • EPA adopted a new standard for disinfection byproducts in 2001. Disinfection byproducts are formed when drinking water disinfectants react with naturally occurring organic matter in water. In 2011, about 1 percent of all children served by community water systems were served by systems that had violations of the disinfection byproducts standard. Exposure to disinfection byproducts may lead to cancer or developmental effects.62

table icon PHY3 HTML Table

59 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2011). Drinking water contaminants. EPA Office of Water. Retrieved from http://water.epa.gov/drink/contaminants/.

60 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2011). Current drinking water regulations. EPA Office of Water. Retrieved from http://water.epa.gov/lawsregs/rulesregs/sdwa/currentregulations.cfm.

61 Kenny, J.F., Barber, N.L., Hutson, S.S., Linsey, K.S., Lovelace, J.K., and Maupin, M.A. (2009). Estimated use of water in the United States in 2005. USGS Circular 1344. Available at http://pubs.usgs.gov/circ/1344/.

62 U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. (2005). Economic analysis for the final stage 2 disinfectants and disinfection byproducts rule (EPA/815/R-05/010). Washington, DC: Office of Water.