|Tighter standard on arsenic in
water...Who's to pay?
13 million Americans affected
|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
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
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.
Its 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 peoples 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
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.
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.
about arsenic in your home's water? You can do something about it.
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