In 1974, Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. This law requires EPA to determine the level of contaminants in drinking water at which no adverse health effects are likely to occur. These non-enforceable health goals, based solely on possible health risks and exposure over a lifetime with an adequate margin of safety, are called maximum contaminant level goals (MCLG). Contaminants are any physical, chemical, biological or radiological substances or matter in water.
The MCLG for mercury is 0.002 mg/L or 2 ppb. EPA has set this level of protection based on the best available science to prevent potential health problems. EPA has set an enforceable regulation for mercury, called a maximum contaminant level (MCL), at 0.002 mg/L or 2 ppb. MCLs are set as close to the health goals as possible, considering cost, benefits and the ability of public water systems to detect and remove contaminants using suitable treatment technologies. In this case, the MCL equals the MCLG, because analytical methods or treatment technology do not pose any limitation.
The Phase II Rule, the regulation for mercury, became effective in 1992. The Safe Drinking Water Act requires EPA to periodically review the national primary drinking water regulation for each contaminant and revise the regulation, if appropriate. EPA reviewed mercury as part of the Six Year Review and determined that the 0.002 mg/L or 2 ppb MCLG and 0.002 mg/L or 2 ppb MCL for mercury are still protective of human health.
States may set more stringent drinking water MCLGs and MCLs for mercury than EPA.