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Ground Water and Drinking Water

Understanding drinking water requirements under FIFRA and SDWA


The Federal Insecticide, Fungicide, and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA) requires that any product intended to kill or otherwise control pests (including microorganisms) cannot be sold or distributed unless it is registered (licensed) by EPA.

  • Disinfectants that are sold to treat drinking water must be registered as pesticides under FIFRA.
  • Other examples of pesticides that must be registered include piscicides used to pre-treat water, and algaecides, bactericides and molluscicides. The label of a registered pesticide will state whether the pesticide can be used in drinking water.
  • Registration ensures that pesticides, when used in accordance with their approved labeling, will not cause unreasonable adverse effects on the environment or human health.

The Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) generally imposes requirements on Public Water Systems (PWSs), not on product manufacturers.  As a result, there is no disinfectant product approval, registration, or license under the SDWA. However, some states, tribes or territories may have such requirements.

Registration/compliance under FIFRA does not mean that a product meets the requirements of other environmental and public health protection statutes, including the SDWA, or vice versa. Furthermore, FIFRA registration/compliance does not mean that the product meets state, tribal or territorial laws regarding drinking water products for use by PWSs.

  • As a part of primacy approval, states, tribes or territories may have such requirements. For example, many states require that products used for treating drinking water be certified by the National Sanitation Foundation (NSF) International.
  • NSF International does not confirm a product’s registration status as a part of its certification process.

To learn more read EPA's Quick Guide for Disinfectant Products for Drinking Water Use by Public Water Systems

Questions and Answers

Who has authority to implement and enforce drinking water regulations in a state?
The EPA works closely with the Primacy Agencies (e.g., states, tribes and territories) to implement the SWDA and to protect public health and the environment. Under SDWA, the EPA grants the states with primary enforcement responsibility of their drinking water program, known as primacy.

What is the role of NSF in states' authority under SDWA?
EPA approves a state's authority to implement its drinking water program under the SDWA. Some states require that products used for treating drinking water be certified by the NSF International, an independent, third-party certification organization. NSF states that, “NSF/ANSI 60 has been developed to establish minimum requirements for the control of potential adverse human health effects from products added to water for its treatment. The standard establishes minimum health effects requirements for the chemicals, the chemical contaminants, and the impurities that are directly added to drinking water from drinking treatment chemicals.”

The NSF standards have been, “developed using a voluntary consensus process. All parties at interest were represented, including regulatory agencies, industry, and water suppliers; consultants and other users of products covered by the standards.” For more:

What does FIFRA have to do with SDWA?
Under SDWA, public water systems are required to treat drinking water for bacteria, among other contaminants.  Any product intended to kill or otherwise control pests (including microorangisms such as bacteria) cannot be sold or distributed unless it has been registered under FIFRA. Therefore, public water systems that use disinfectants to treat for microorganisms such as bacteria must ensure that the disinfectant is registered as pesticides under FIFRA.

How can I find out if a product is registered under FIFRA?
Each product that is registered by EPA will have a registration number on its label. The label will also state where and how the product can be used. To determine whether a product is registered by EPA to treat drinking water, PWSs can find a list of pesticide products with their approved label by searching with the NPIC Product Research Online (NPRO) lookup tool. It is the responsibility of each PWS to ensure that all disinfectants, algaecides, bactericides, molluscicides, piscicides and other pesticidal products it uses to treat drinking water are registered under FIFRA by EPA.

Who is required to register pesticides under FIFRA?
It is the responsibility of the chemical manufacturer or distributor to follow all applicable laws and regulations, including obtaining FIFRA registration for the U.S. market.  It is the responsibility of the chemical manufacturer or distributor to comply with any additional requirements set by the relevant state, tribe or territory.