Drinking water quality standards

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Drinking water quality standards describes the quality parameters set for drinking water. Despite the truth that every human on this planet needs drinking water to survive and that water may contain many harmful constituents, there are no universally recognized and accepted international standards for drinking water.[1] Even where standards do exist, and are applied, the permitted concentration of individual constituents may vary by as much as ten times from one set of standards to another. The surveillance agency is responsible for an independent (external) and periodic review of all aspects of safety, whereas the water supplier is responsible at all times for regular quality control, for operational monitoring and for ensuring good operating practice. Guidelines for Water-Drinking Quality. This surveillance holds several water purification companies accountable when water doesn't meet quality standards. This method enforces all policies and encourages proper infrastructure, whether piped or unpiped, treatment plants, storage reservoirs and distribution systems.

Many developed countries specify standards to be applied in their own country. In Europe, this includes the European Drinking Water Directive[2] and in the United States the United States Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) establishes standards as required by the Safe Drinking Water Act. For countries without a legislative or administrative framework for such standards, the World Health Organization publishes guidelines on the standards that should be achieved.[3] China adopted its own drinking water standard GB3838-2002 (Type II) enacted by Ministry of Environmental Protection in 2002.[4]

Where drinking water quality standards do exist, most are expressed as guidelines or targets rather than requirements, and very few water standards have any legal basis or, are subject to enforcement.[5] Two exceptions are the European Drinking Water Directive and the Safe Drinking Water Act in the USA, which require legal compliance with specific standards.

In Europe, this includes a requirement for member states to enact appropriate local legislation to mandate the directive in each country. Routine inspection and, where required, enforcement is enacted by means of penalties imposed by the European Commission on non-compliant nations.

Countries with guideline values as their standards include Canada, which has guideline values for a relatively small suite of parameters, New Zealand, where there is a legislative basis, but water providers have to make "best endeavours" to comply with the standards,[6] and Australia.

Range of standards[edit]

Although drinking water standards frequently are referred to as if they are simple lists of parametric values, standards documents also specify the sampling location, sampling methods, sampling frequency, analytical methods, and laboratory accreditation AQC. In addition, a number of standards documents also require calculation to determine whether a level exceeds the standard, such as taking an average. Some standards give complex, detailed requirements for the statistical treatment of results, temporal and seasonal variations, summation of related parameters, and mathematical treatment of apparently aberrant results.

Parametric values[edit]

(Parametric value also has a specific and different mathematical meaning)

A parametric value in this context is most commonly the concentration of a substance, e.g. 30 mg/l of Iron. It may also be a count such as 500 E. coli per litre or a statistical value such as the average concentration of copper is 2 mg/l. Many countries not only specify parametric values that may have health impacts but also specify parametric values for a range of constituents that by themselves are unlikely to have any impact on health. These include colour, turbidity, pH, and the organoleptic (aesthetic) parameters (taste and odour).

It is possible and technically acceptable to refer to the same parameter in different ways that may appear to suggest a variation in the standard required. For example, nitrite may be measured as nitrite ion or expressed as N. A standard of "Nitrite as N" set at 1.4 mg/l equals a nitrite ion concentration of 4.6 mg/l. This is an apparent difference of nearly threefold.

Standards by country[edit]


Drinking water quality standards in Australia have been developed by the Australian Government National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC) in the form of the Australian Drinking Water Guidelines.[7] These guidelines provide contaminant limits (pathogen, aesthetic, organic, inorganic, and radiological) as well as guidance on applying limits for the management of drinking water in Australian drinking water treatment and distribution.

European Union[edit]

The following parametric standards are included in the Drinking Water Directive and are expected to be enforced by appropriate legislation in every country in the European Union. Simple parametric values are reproduced here, but in many cases the original directive also provides caveats and notes about many of the values given.

United States[edit]

In the USA, the federal legislation controlling drinking water quality is the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) which is implemented by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, mainly through state or territorial primacy agencies[8]. States and territories must implement rules that are at least as stringent as EPA's to retain primary enforcement authority (primacy) over drinking water. Many states also apply their own state-specific standards, which may be more rigorous or include additional parameters. Standards set by the EPA in the USA are not international standards since they apply only to a single country, however, many countries look to the USA for appropriate scientific and public health guidance and may reference or adopt USA standards.

World Health Organization Guidelines[edit]

The World Health Organization (WHO) Guideline for Drinking-water Quality (GDWQ) include the following recommended limits on naturally occurring constituents that may have direct adverse health impact:

  • Arsenic 10μg/l
  • Barium 10μg/l
  • Boron 2400μg/l
  • Chromium 50μg/l
  • Fluoride 1500μg/l
  • Selenium 40μg/l
  • Uranium 30μg/l

Organic species:

  • Benzene 10μg/l
  • Carbon tetrachloride 4μg/l
  • 1,2-Dichlorobenzene 1000μg/l
  • 1,4-Dichlorobenzene 300μg/l
  • 1,2-Dichloroethane 30μg/l
  • 1,2-Dichloroethene 50μg/l
  • Dichloromethane 20μg/l
  • Di(2-ethylhexyl)phthalate 8 μg/l
  • 1,4-Dioxane 50μg/l
  • Edetic acid 600μg/l
  • Ethylbenzene 300 μg/l
  • Hexachlorobutadiene 0.6 μg/l
  • Nitrilotriacetic acid 200μg/l
  • Pentachlorophenol 9μg/l
  • Styrene 20μg/l
  • Tetrachloroethene 40μg/l
  • Toluene 700μg/l
  • Trichloroethene 20μg/l
  • Xylene 500μg/l

Comparison of parametric values[edit]

The following table provides a comparison of a selection of parameters for concentrations listed by WHO, the European Union, EPA, and Ministry of Environmental Protection of China.

" indicates that no standard has been identified by editors of this article and ns indicates that no standard exists. μg/l -> Micro grams per litre or 0.001 ppm, mg/L -> 1 ppm or 1000 μg/l

Parameter Table World Health Organization European Union United States China Canada [9]
1,2-dichloroethane 3.0 μg/l 5 μg/l
Acrylamide 0.10 μg/l
Aluminium Al 0,2 mg/l no limit listed
Antimony Sb ns 5.0 μg/l 6.0 μg/l 6.00 μg/l
Arsenic As 10μg/l 10 μg/l 10μg/l 50μg/l 10.0 μg/l
Barium Ba 700μg/l ns 2 mg/L 1.00 mg/L
Benzene 10μg/l 1.0 μg/l 5 μg/l
Benzo(a)pyrene 0.010 μg/l 0.2 μg/l 0.0028 μg/l
Beryllium Be "
Boron B 2.4 mg/l 1.0 mg/L 5.00 mg/L
Bromate 10 μg/l 10 μg/l
Cadmium Cd 3 μg/l 5 μg/l 5 μg/l 5 μg/l 5.00 μg/l
Calcium Ca 200 mg/L
Chromium Cr 50μg/l 50 μg/l 0.1 mg/L 50 μg/l (Cr6) 0.050 mg/L
Cobalt Co "
Copper Cu 2.0 mg/l TT 1 mg/l 1.00 mg/L
Cyanide 50 μg/l 0.2 mg/L 50 μg/l
Epichlorohydrin 0.10 μg/l
Fluoride 1.5 mg/l 1.5 mg/l 4 mg/l 1 mg/l
Gold Au no limit listed
hardness CaCO3 0–75 mg/L = soft
Iron Fe 0,2 mg/l 0.300 mg/L
Lanthanum La no limit listed
Lead Pb 10 μg/l 15 μg/l 10 μg/l 10.0 μg/l
Magnesium Mg 50.0 mg/L
Manganese Mn 0, 05 mg/l 0.050 mg/L
Mercury Hg 6 μg/l 1 μg/l 2 μg/l 0.05 μg/l 1.00 μg/l
Molybdenum Mo no limit listed
Nickel Ni 20 μg/l no limit listed
Nitrate 50 mg/l 50 mg/l 10 mg/L (as N) 10 mg/L (as N)
Nitrite 0.50 mg/l 1 mg/L (as N)
Pesticides — Total 0.50 μg/l
Pesticides (individual) 0.10 μg/ l
pH 6.5 to 8.5
Phosphorus P no limit listed
Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons l 0.10 μg/
Potassium K no limit listed
Scandium Sc no limit listed
Selenium Se 40 μg/l 10 μg/l 50 μg/l 10 μg/l 10.0 μg/l
Silicon Si no limit listed
Silver Ag 0.050 mg/L
Sodium Na 200 mg/L
Strontium Sr no limit listed
Tetrachloroethene and Trichloroethene 40μg/l 10 μg/l
Tin Sn no limit listed
Titanium Ti no limit listed
Tungsten W no limit listed
Uranium U 0.10 mg/L
Vanadium V no limit listed
Zinc Zn 5.00 mg/L
vinyl chloride 0,50 µg/l
chlorides 250 mg/l
electrical conductivity 2500 µS cm-1 at 20 °C

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Shmueli, Deborah F. (May 1999). "Water quality in international river basins". Political Geography. 18 (4): 437–476. doi:10.1016/S0962-6298(98)00106-1. Pdf.
  2. ^ European Drinking Water Directive
  3. ^ Guidelines for Drinking-water Quality, Fourth Edition; World Health Organization; 2011
  4. ^ "Environmental quality standards for surface water".
  5. ^ What is the purpose of drinking water quality guidelines/regulations?. Canada: Safe Drinking Water Foundation. Pdf. Archived 2011-10-06 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ "Health (Drinking Water) Amendment Act 2007". drinkingwater.co.nz. Drinking water for New Zealand. 2007.
  7. ^ Australian Drinking Water Guidelines (2011)
  8. ^ Joseph Cotruvo, Victor Kimm, Arden Calvert. “Drinking Water: A Half Century of Progress.” EPA Alumni Association. March 1, 2016.
  9. ^ As per Canadian or B.C. Health Act Safe Drinking Water Regulation BC Reg 230/92, & 390 Sch 120, 2001. Task Force of Canadian Council of Resource & Envir. Ministers Guidelines for Canadian Drinking Water Quality, 1996. Amend. Health Canada (2006).

Further reading[edit]