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Tighter standard on arsenic in water...Who's to pay?
EPA rule
wins support;
13 million Americans affected
  Map of arsenic in the USA
Jan. 18 —  An Environmental Protection Agency order reducing by
80 percent the allowable levels of arsenic in drinking water is being praised by environmentalists and endorsed by the water industry. While not quite as strict as some activists would have liked, the order won the support of water agencies, which urged Congress to help pay for the health improvements.
       THE ACTION Wednesday updates a 60-year-old arsenic standard and is expected to require about 3,000 communities — generally small water systems — to make changes in the treatment of drinking water.
       President Clinton, in a statement, praised the long-planned action for providing “additional public health protection for 13 million Americans.”
       Environmentalists have argued for years that the arsenic standard of 50 parts per billion should be tightened. Last year, the EPA proposed going to 5 parts per billion as demanded by many environmentalists, but then settled at 10 parts per billion.
 
PRESSURE TO TIGHTEN
       Efforts to tighten the federal requirement gained momentum after a National Academy of Sciences report in 1999 found arsenic in drinking water causes bladder, lung and skin cancer, and might cause kidney and liver cancer.
       The EPA also had been sued by a leading environmental group, the Natural Resources Defense Council, which claimed the EPA had been negligent in not moving quickly to lower the standard.
       “It’s a significant accomplishment to have gotten this through with so much opposition over the last several decades,” said Erik Olson, an NRDC water quality expert. “It will save many people’s lives who would have died from cancer.”
       
WATER INDUSTRY SUPPORTS
       The mining and chemical industries had opposed the 5 parts standard because it is expected to be used as the cleanup standard on some toxic waste sites. Water supply agencies also had complained, contending the improvements would cost $5 billion.

Water industry representatives had lobbied for a standard of 10 parts per billion as is the standard for the World Health Organization. They said the earlier proposed 5 parts per billion standard would have cost $5 billion.
       The American Water Works Association welcomed the new standard but added a note of caution. “The rule strengthens public health protection, but at a significant cost,” Executive Director Jack Hoffbuhr said in a statement asking Congress to provide financial aid to the hardest-hit communities.
       “With some help from Congress,” he added, “communities will be able to find the financial balance necessary to promote the health of their residents.”


SMALLER SYSTEMS
The EPA estimated its new standard will increase the annual water bill $60 or less per household in communities where improved treatment and upgrades are needed. Some financial and technical assistant will be available for small systems needing to make improvements to meet the new standard, the EPA said.
       All the 54,000 community water systems, serving about 254 million people, will be subject to the new standard. But the EPA said that only about 5 percent, or 3,000 systems serving 13 million people, will have to upgrade their systems to meet the new standard.
       Most of the systems affected by the standard serve fewer than 10,000 people. The agency said that communities in parts of the Midwest and New England that depend on underground sources for drinking water will be affected most.

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