Safeguarding the public from harmful drinking water contaminants is essential to human health and the well-being of our communities. In recent years, we have seen a renewed focus on repairing drinking water infrastructure across the United States, resulting in increased funding from federal and state entities and new regulations for reporting and responding to water contamination. Still, the American Society of Engineers issued U.S. drinking water infrastructure a C- grade in 2021 as there are still several obstacles to ensuring all Americans have access to safe drinking water.
The most noticeable problem is the large discrepancy between the cost of replacing aging infrastructure and the funding needed to update it. Another prominent issue is that a holistic approach is often used to address drinking water challenges that can be drastically different at the state, county and city level. Many times, this approach ignores rural areas where the need is usually the greatest and does not focus enough on addressing these issues directly at homes or businesses.
Fortunately, the water treatment industry can provide many solutions that are economical and can be deployed rapidly on a case-by-case basis. This includes treating water at the tap or the entry points of a house or building by using certified point-of-use (POU) or point-of-entry (POE) water filtration products. The Water Quality Association (WQA) has long referred to POU/POE as the “final barrier” of protection as they can reduce contaminants or health hazards from being ingested by an individual in a home, office or commercial setting. There is still a need for larger-scale projects including lead service line replacement, treatment plants and more.
However, certified POU and POE products have the unique capability to mitigate or reduce the level of health contaminants that can enter drinking water through a number of sources (pipes, fixtures, etc.) while also dealing with the impurities that lend an undesirable taste, smell or appearance to drinking water. Certification of these products to national standards has served a fundamental guide for the public to ensure that products are tested to meet their claims of reducing a specific health contaminant and that they perform as intended.
POU/POE treatment can be an inexpensive choice to act as a stopgap measure and, in some cases, the long-term solution to protect people’s health. We saw this during the Flint Water Crisis as POU water filters effectively reduced lead in drinking water and were specifically tested to remediate higher levels of contamination. Lately, we have been seeing more examples of regulators, municipal officials, and public health professionals coming to the same conclusion:
While this technology has gained acceptance by consumers over the last few decades, policymakers who are focused on improving water quality for their constituents often do not have the technical expertise to develop legislation with this solution in mind. As a result, WQA launched the “Clean Water for All” task force, whose goal was to work directly with policymakers to craft legislation that will help provide safe drinking water to all Americans, especially those who have been overlooked by federal and state funding. This longstanding effort culminated in the introduction of S. 4081 & H.R. 8081, the Healthy Drinking Water Affordability Act (Healthy H2O Act), in both the U.S. House and Senate.
The draft legislation, sponsored by Reps. Chellie Pingree (D-ME) and David Rouzer (R-NC) in the House and Senator Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) in the Senate, authorizes a new grant program at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) that would cover costs of water quality testing and the purchase, installation and maintenance of POU/POE water filtration products certified to national standards by an ANSI-accredited body.
Assistance would go directly to individuals, including renters, licensed child-care facilities, non-profits and local governments. Emphasizing the need for these small, underserved rural communities, the House and Senate versions of the bill remain mostly identical; however, the House version expands eligible rural communities for this grant to those with up to 10,000 in population, an increase from the USDA regulation default of 2,500.
In addition to WQA, more than 20 organizations now support the bill, including the National Ground Water Association, The Water Council, NSF International, IAPMO, the American Supply Association, the Water Systems Council, the Water Well Trust and the Groundwater Foundation.
Included in the bill is the requirement that the water treatment products purchased through the program have been certified according to ANSI standards. Certification provides consumers, retailers and regulators the benefit of knowing that an accredited third party has evaluated a product’s capability to perform as advertised. This provision is critical as it gives consumers confidence that the products they purchase will work and will improve the healthiness of their homes and businesses.
Another important provision of the bill is the requirement that qualified professionals be used to install and maintain the water treatment products purchased through the Healthy H2O Act. Knowledge of threats posed to the local water source along with a thorough understanding of water science and the products themselves offer the qualified professionals the capabilities needed to determine that the right product is used for the right reasons.
Addressing these drinking water challenges will ultimately have a profound impact for the public and the private sector. By increasing the accessibility of safe drinking water, the Healthy H2O Act and the use of certified POU/POE products and other water treatment systems will go a long way to ensuring the well-being of all Americans.
Valerie Bosscher, Darren A. Lytle, Michael R. Schock, Andrea Porter & Miguel Del Toral (2019) POU water filters effectively reduce lead in drinking water: a demonstration field study in flint, Michigan, Journal of Environmental Science and Health, Part A, 54:5, 484-493, DOI: 10.1080/10934529.2019.1611141