Regulatory Update: Up Ahead

Aug. 13, 2021

Beyond lead & PFAS concerns, proposed legislation considers other emerging contaminants

About the author:

Kathleen Fultz is global regulatory and government affairs manager for the Water Quality Assn. Fultz can be reached at [email protected].

A proposed legislative or regulatory idea often takes more than one government session to gain the necessary traction and support to pass. During this time, provisions are amended and stakeholders lend expertise. In drinking water, the hot topics have been lead and per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS), but what lies beyond? Perchlorate? 1,2,3 trichloropropane? Microplastics? Reviewing proposed legislation and regulations can provide some indication of drinking water concerns ahead.


Signs of what may be up ahead can come from observing other country’s policies. This year, Health Canada published a health-based maximum acceptable concentration (MAC) for total manganese in drinking water of 0.12 mg/L (120 ppb) and an aesthetic objective at 0.02 mg/L (20 ppb). A MAC is the Canadian version of a U.S. maximum contaminant level (MCL). Manganese has long been regulated only as an aesthetic concern in the U.S. and other countries. 


In May 2019, the U.S. EPA took steps to propose regulating perchlorate in drinking water by setting a national primary drinking water regulation and maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG). This is following a similar regulatory determination process PFOA and PFOS are moving through under the EPA, although perchlorate is further along in this process. 

The current proposal for perchlorate is to set both the enforceable MCL and the MCLG at 0.056 mg/L (56 ppb). EPA also is investigating setting the MCL and MCLG at 0.018 mg/L (18 ppb) or 0.090 mg/L (90 ppb). The agency is weighing whether it should withdraw its determination to regulate perchlorate based on new information demonstrating perchlorate may not occur in public water systems with frequency and at levels of public health concern. 

Hexavalent Chromium

In the U.S., state governments are taking steps to regulate contaminants before the federal EPA introduces its own regulatory determination. This has been the case with hexavalent chromium, with regulations set by California, New Jersey and North Carolina. Now, New York proposed Senate Bill 1646 which amends the state’s public health law to add hexavalent chromium to the list of contaminants that must be designated as emerging contaminants by the State Department of Health. 

At the federal level, introduced House Resolution 19 expresses concerns regarding the prevalence of the contaminant in drinking water across the country and encourages EPA to complete its health review and establish a federal standard for hexavalent chromium in drinking water. 

1,2,3 Trichloropropane

California also has adopted a state MCL for 1,2,3 trichloropropane in drinking water set at 0.000005 mg/L (5 ppt). Now, New Jersey Assembly Bill 354 and Senate Bill 74 proposes to regulate this contaminant with its own state MCL of .000015 mg/L (15 ppt). 

1,4 Dioxane

Under state Senate Bill 2841, New York is proposing to investigate 1,4 dioxane by requiring public water systems serving less than 10,000 people to test drinking water for the presence of 1,4 dioxane. Understanding contaminant occurrences through data gathering activities such as this can guide a government’s regulatory determination.


Multiple states are discussing how to address microplastics through occurrence data and establishing a definition.

Still in the Assembly, California Assembly Bill 223 is seeking a definition of microplastics in drinking water. It proposes to require the State Water Resources Control Board to establish a definition on or before July 1, 2020. This definition would be followed by the board adopting a standard methodology to test for microplastics in drinking water and adopting requirements for four years of testing and reporting on microplastic occurrences in drinking water.

Illinois Senate Bill 1392, which passed June 20, 2019, requires the Prairie Research Institute to investigate the role of microplastics in public drinking water. All test results will be public, as well as recommendations made to the state on further legislative or regulatory actions to protect human health and the environment. 

Still in the House, Minnesota House Bill 1239 is another occurrence data gathering proposal. It would direct the Health Commissioner to test for contaminants in surface water used as drinking water. The bill lists “must test for” contaminants, which include unregulated contaminants, one of which is microplastics.

New Jersey Assembly Bill 5521/Senate Bill 3792, both introduced in Spring 2019, would require the New Jersey Drinking Water Quality Institute to study microplastics in drinking water and offer a definition within two years. The legislation also seeks the adoption of regulations for identification and testing of microplastics in drinking water through the State Department of Environmental Protection. 

Still in the House, Vermont House Bill 55 defines microplastics as “plastic particle or filament of less than 5 mm in size.” It proposes the state secretary of Natural Resources study the extent of microplastic contamination in Vermont’s environment and drinking water. The study would need to include a review on human health effects, a recommendation on the removal of microplastics, and testing or monitoring results collected. The bill requires the study be completed on or before Jan. 1, 2021, and appropriates $200 million for the study. 

About the Author

Kathleen Fultz

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