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Drinking Water Standards

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The most important point of departure for drinking water standards is the World Health Organisation Guidelines for Drinking Water Quality. These are widely used throughout the world with the exception of parts of North America. WHO’s Guidelines have evolved over a period of 50 years from standards to guidelines, reflecting the fact that they have no legal force. The WHO emphasises that it is important that member states should adapt the Guidelines to local circumstances in setting standards, taking into account geographical, social and economic considerations. The Guidelines are based on the best scientific evidence and are adapted through a process of rolling revision to take account of new thinking and new evidence.

What are standards for?

Drinking water standards fulfil several purposes:

  1. To protect public health.
  2. To ensure drinking water is acceptable to consumers.
  3. To provide a benchmark for water supplier operations.
  4. To provide reassurance to consumers that drinking water is safe.

However, to achieve this in a reasonable manner it is important that standards are proportionate and appropriate to cover the primary threats to drinking water, which may vary significantly between countries and regions.

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