Statute and Program

Considerations Under the Statute

Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA)

To regulate a contaminant under the primary drinking water regulations, EPA must first determine that the contaminant has an adverse effect on human health or welfare.h The maximum contaminant level goal must be established at a level at which no known health effects may occur and which allow an adequate margin of safety, without consideration of cost.i


The mandatory, enforceable standard under the SDWA, the maximum contaminant level, is set at a level that is economically and technologically feasible. Establishing that level requires consideration of a number of factors, such as the quantifiable and nonquantifiable health risk reduction benefits,j the quantifiable and nonquantifiable costs,k and the effects of the contaminant on the general population and groups within the general population, such as infants and elderly.l

a 42 U.S.C. § 7412(b)(2)(C).

b 42 U.S.C. § 7412(d)(2).

c 42 U.S.C. § 7412(d)(5).

d 42 U.S.C. § 7409(b)(1).

e 42 U.S.C. § 7409(b)(2).

f 42 U.S.C. § 7410; see also Union Elec. Co. v. EPA, 427 U.S. 246, 266-67 (1976) (discussing how, although the U.S. EPA cannot consider costs in deciding whether to approve or disapprove an SIP, a state can do so in structuring its proposed SIP).

g 42 U.S.C. § 7503(a)(2).

h 42 U.S.C. § 300f(1)(B); 300f(2).

i 42 U.S.C. § 300g-1(b)(4)(A).

j 42 U.S.C. § 300g-1(b)(3)(C)(i)(I) & (II).

k 42 U.S.C. § 300g-1(b)(3)(C)(i)(III) & (IV).

l 42 U.S.C. § 300g-1(b)(3)(C)(i)(V).

the risk characterization is completed, the focus turns to communicating results to the decision maker. The decision maker uses the results of the risk characterization, other technological factors, and non-technological social and economic considerations in reaching a regulatory decision. … These Guidelines are not intended to give guidance on the nonscientific aspects of risk management decisions” (EPA, 2001, p. 51). In addition, other factors are referred to in Figure 1-2. Those other factors might include the political context of a decision or social factors, such as environmental justice.

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