What Are Primary Standards?

Primary standards are maximum levels of contaminants permitted in drinking water. Drinking water that meets the primary standards is classified as safe for human consumption. Water that fails to meet the primary standards presents serious health and safety concerns to the public. Primary standard regulations reduce potential health risks from microorganisms, chemicals and disinfectants.

  1. Drinking Water Regulations

    • The National Primary Drinking Water Regulations (NPDWR or primary standards) includes a list of all contaminants available under the Code of Federal Regulations. The Environmental Protection Agency maintains a contaminant time line and monitors regulatory developments. The primary standards refer to the list of contaminants and the maximum contaminant levels (MCLs).

    Primary Standard Contaminants

    • The contaminants include organic chemicals, inorganic chemicals, disinfectants, disinfectant byproducts, radionuclides and microorganisms. Microorganisms found naturally in water can multiply in hot conditions. Other microorganisms develop from human and animal feces. The disinfectants are added to water to control microbes. The disinfectant byproducts can increase the risk of cancer and anemia, plus affect nervous systems. Inorganic chemicals enter the water from metal refineries and asbestos decay. Organic chemicals run off from sewage plants and pesticide-sprayed crops. The chemicals can cause blood, organ and reproductive problems.

    Primary Standard Levels

    • The primary standards regulate drinking water contaminants to keep the contaminants at a safe level. This standard for drinking water requires contaminants to fall below a certain amount. Contaminant levels above the primary standards present heightened health risk. The Environmental Protection Agency must reduce the contaminant level within a specific time line and notify all consumers that the water is not safe for human consumption. The immediate side effects can be eye irritation, skin reactions and stomach discomfort or prolonged organ failure and blood disease. Other contaminants in the water supply go unregulated.

    Analytical Standards

    • The EPA also uses analytical standards in regulating air quality and radiation exposure. The Clean Air Act requires National Ambient Air Quality Standards (NAAQS). These primary standards limit air contamination to protect the air quality for the general public, elderly, children and asthmatics. Secondary standards are set to protect the welfare of livestock, crops and forests. Similar standards are set to limit radiation levels from air travel, chest X-rays and CAT scans. Primary and secondary standards are used as a measurement tool to determine safe and unsafe levels of contaminants in the water, air and radiation.

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