Position Paper On: Drinking Water Analytical Services


In the United States, citizens depend on affordable access to safe drinking water supplied by the nation’s 160,000 Public Waters Systems. But when media reports chronicle trace amounts of pharmaceutical contaminants in these public systems, citizens naturally wonder whether their drinking water poses long-term health risks.

Recent media stories documenting the presence of pharmaceuticals and other contaminants in municipal water supplies have raised public concern over the safety of our nation’s public water supply. Underwriters Laboratories® recognizes this as an important and complicated issue that presents no easy or immediate answers. Through our public safety mission, we are committed to supporting the drinking water community in addressing this issue. The data generated through our comprehensive analytical services is helping water utilities and government agencies understand this complex issue.

While the presence of emerging contaminants, such as pharmaceuticals, is not a new issue in water, recent advancements in analytical technologies enable analytical laboratories to analyze for more contaminants in drinking water and do so with greater specificity and sensitivity than ever before. Only a few laboratories, including UL, have developed methods to detect pharmaceuticals and other compounds at ultralow levels. However, significant research is still required to understand both the scope of the problem and its implications for our public drinking water supply. The scientific and regulatory communities are investigating the occurrence of these contaminants, their health effects and their consequences for public safety.


For compounds such as pharmaceuticals, we are only now beginning to understand how widespread these contaminants are—and at what levels they occur. UL has a long history of developing analytical technologies for emerging contaminants in drinking water. Over the past eight years, UL has invested in cutting-edge analytical equipment such as high performance liquid chromatography with triple quadrupole mass spectrometer (HPLC/MS/MS). This technology, coupled with various sample preparation techniques, has enabled UL to develop several analytical methods to detect a wide range of emerging contaminants in the parts-per- trillion-concentration range. In addition to testing for trace levels of pharmaceutically active compounds (PhACs), UL’s capabilities include analysis of estrogens and other hormones, phenolic endocrine disrupters, brominated and phosphate flame retardants, herbicide degradates, and perfluorochemicals. UL is one of only a few laboratories nationwide that can analyze such a wide variety of emerging contaminants in drinking water. With advanced methodologies, UL can analyze for a broad range of contaminants using fewer methods to streamline the testing process and reduce testing costs.

Regulation of contaminants in drinking water

As authorized under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) sets drinking water standards to control contaminants in the public drinking water supply. The EPA uses a highly rigorous, scientific-based approach to setting enforceable, health-based drinking water standards. To determine whether a contaminant should be regulated, the EPA will analyze peer-reviewed science on variables including the occurrence levels of a contaminant in the environment, routes of human exposure and health effects of exposure—particularly health effects to vulnerable subpopulations.

UL is committed to helping the EPA and the drinking water community understand this complex issue by developing innovative methodologies and providing high-quality analytical services. This data supports ongoing and focused efforts to better understand the occurrence and health implications of these contaminants. Through our public safety mission, UL continues to utilize innovative technologies to help the drinking water community monitor for emerging contaminants.

About UL’s Drinking Water Analytical Services

UL is a recognized leader in drinking water analysis. UL has analyzed over 1.5 million samples for thousands of water utilities, bottled water producers, engineering firms, and state and federal governments, including the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the U.S. military. To give you complete confidence in our work, UL:

  • Provides compliance analysis for public water supplies, as well as the bottled water industry, and is certified in 48 states and Puerto Rico
  • Acts as a strategic partner to help municipalities understand increasingly complex drinking water regulations and assists with their monitoring requirements and schedules
  • Operates an extensive research and development program and actively contributes to ongoing professional discourse on the analysis of emerging contaminants. UL staff regularly presents papers to the industry and has published several papers in peer-reviewed journals on analytical technologies in drinking water. Learn more about these reports by visiting www.ul.com/water/waterlab/publications.html.

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