Drinking Water Safety

February 15, 1974

Report Outline
Increasing Concern Over Tap Water
Development of Public Supply Systems
Efforts to Guarantee Water Purity
Special Focus

Increasing Concern Over Tap Water

New Evidence of Dangers in U.S. Drinking Water

Safe drinking water threatens to become almost as scarce and costly a resource as petroleum in the not-so-distant future. In the United States, where public water supplies are generally acknowledged to be among the best in the world, new evidence indicates that tap water quality is deteriorating. Many Americans already know that their drinking water looks dirty, smells funny and tastes bad—but few realize that some of it actually may be dangerous to their health.

Drinking water may be contaminated by bacteria from improperly treated sewage, or chemicals from industrial pollution or farm pesticides. It might harbor elusive and persistent disease viruses. Or it may contain hazardous trace metals from manufacturing wastes or corroded water pipes. Even water which has been through elaborate public treatment plants often bears such contaminants when it reaches the home faucet. Outbreaks of waterborne diseases, though infrequent, have not been eliminated. Moreover, the long-term or cumulative effects of drinking, cooking and washing with impure water are not well understood.

“Overconfidence or apathy seems to pervade the public's attitude with respect to drinking water,” Dr. J. H. Lehr, executive director of the National Water Well Association, told a Senate committee in 1972. “Common daily experience, plus a current myth about the future, falsely implies that the quality, safety and adequacy of our municipal water supply systems are above reproach. Perhaps the myth can be stated as follows: ‘Everyone knows that we have launched a massive water-pollution-control effort and that waterborne disease outbreaks are a thing of the past.’ This statement is simply not true…”

ISSUE TRACKER for Related Reports
Water Pollution
Jul. 15, 2016  Drinking Water Safety
Oct. 17, 2014  Protecting the Oceans
Jun. 18, 2010  Water Shortages
Aug. 01, 2003  Water Shortages
Nov. 24, 2000  Water Quality
Dec. 15, 1995  Global Water Shortages
Feb. 11, 1994  Water Quality
Apr. 19, 1991  California: Enough Water for the Future?
Jan. 30, 1987  Western Water
Jul. 12, 1985  Preventing Groundwater Contamination
Jan. 14, 1977  Western Water: Coming Crisis
Feb. 15, 1974  Drinking Water Safety
Aug. 11, 1965  Water Resources and National Water Needs
Dec. 08, 1960  Pollution of Water Supplies
Oct. 02, 1959  Water Needs and Resources
Jul. 01, 1955  Water for the Future
Jul. 24, 1953  Water Pollution
Feb. 15, 1950  Water Supply
Oct. 03, 1947  Unclean Waters
Sep. 17, 1935  Stream Pollution and the Disposal of Waste
Science and Politics
Water Pollution