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Water: Human Health

Human Health Criteria

Revised National Recommended Water Quality Criteria for the Protection of Human Health

Fact Sheet; December 2003

EPA is publishing 15 updated national recommended water quality criteria for the protection of human health:

  • chlorobenzene
  • cyanide
  • 1,2-dichlorobenzene
  • 1,4-dichlorobenzene
  • 1,1-dichloroethylene
  • 1,3-dichloropropene
  • endrin
  • ethylbenzene
  • hexachlorocyclopentadiene
  • lindane
  • thallium
  • toluene
  • 1,2-transdichloroethylene
  • 1,2,4-trichlorobenzene
  • vinyl chloride

These updated criteria are based on EPA's new methodology for deriving human health water quality criteria (i.e., the 2000 Human Health Methodology) and supercede criteria for these chemicals that the Agency had published earlier.


What are human health water quality criteria?

Human health water quality criteria are numeric values that protect human health from the harmful effects of pollutants in ambient water. Under section 304(a) of the CWA, water quality criteria are based solely on data and scientific judgments about the relationship between pollutant concentrations and environmental and human health effects: they do not consider economic or social impacts.

EPA's national recommended water quality criteria are guidance to states and authorized tribes in adopting water quality standards in support of the CWA. They also provide guidance to EPA when it promulgates Federal regulations under the CWA. They are not regulations in themselves and do not impose legally binding requirements on EPA, states, authorized tribes or the public.

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How were the fifteen human health water quality criteria updated?

EPA revised the 15 human health water quality criteria based on the Agency's methodology for deriving national recommended water quality criteria for the protection of human health (see Methodology for Deriving Ambient Water Quality Criteria for the Protection of Human Health (2000), EPA-822-B-00-004, October 2000). This methodology incorporates significant scientific advances made in the last two decades, particularly in the areas of cancer and noncancer risk assessments, exposure assessments, and methodologies to estimate bioaccumulation in fish.

The updated water quality criteria integrate the national default freshwater/estuarine fish consumption rate of 17.5 grams/day. Thirteen of the criteria integrate a relative source contribution value from the national primary drinking water standards for the same chemicals. EPA also incorporated a new cancer potency factor for 1,3-dichloropropene and vinyl chloride and a new reference dose for 1,1-dichloroethylene, hexachlorocyclopentadiene, and lindane. These values have already been published in the Agency's Integrated Risk Information System. The bioconcentration factors (BCFs) used in deriving today's criteria are consistent with the BCFs used to promulgate human health water quality criteria for priority toxic pollutants in rules such as the 1992 National Toxics Rule and the 2000 California Toxics Rule.

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What are the updated human health water quality criteria?

The following table presents the fifteen updated human health water quality criteria:

Pollutant Human Health Criteria for Consumption of:
Water + Organism
(µg/L)
Organism Only
(µg/L)
chlorobenzene 130 1,600
cyanide 140 140
1,2-dichlorobenzene 420 1,300
1,4-dichlorobenzene 63 190
1,1-dichloroethylene 330 7,100
1,3-Dichloropropene 0.34 21
Endrin 0.059 0.060
Ethylbenzene 530 2,100
hexachlorocyclopentadiene 40 1,100
lindane (gamma-BHC) 0.98 1.8
thallium 0.24 0.47
toluene 1,300 15,000
1,2-transdichloroethylene 140 10,000
1,2,4-trichlorobenzene 35 70
vinyl chloride 0.025 2.4

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Where can I find more information on the updated human health water quality criteria?

For more information, contact Luis Cruz (cruz.luis@epa.gov), Health and Ecological Criteria Division (4304T), U.S. EPA, Ariel Rios Building, 1200 Pennsylvania Ave., N.W., Washington, D.C., 20460; (202) 566-1095.

You can find the most current national recommended water quality criteria table.

EPA also established an official public docket for this action (docket # EPA-HQ-OW-2002-0054). The official public docket contains the documents specifically referenced in this action, any scientific views received in response to the December 2002 Federal Register notice, and EPA's responses to the scientific views submitted by the public.

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