EPA Strengthens Standard for Arsenic in Drinking Water

EPA sets the arsenic standard in drinking water at 10 parts per billion. The change could impact 4,000 water systems.

The arsenic standard in drinking water will be 10 parts per billion (PPB), says U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Whitman

"Throughout this process, I have made it clear that EPA intends to strengthen the standard for arsenic by substantially lowering the maximum acceptable level from 50 parts per billion (ppb), which has been the lawful limit for nearly half a century," Whitman wrote in a letter to the conferees on the Veterans Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and Independent Agencies appropriations measure.

She said the standard will improve the safety of drinking water for millions of Americans, adding it will "better protect against the risk of cancer, heart disease and diabetes."

Whitman revealed that when the Administrator initiated a review of the standard for arsenic, additional information was uncovered that had not been considered previously. She asked for time to look at the new science and data that have come to light since the original (1999) study by the National Academy of Sciences.

Whitman also asked for three expert panels to be convened to review all the new and existing materials. The National Academy of Sciences looked at risk, the National Drinking Water Advisory Council examined costs to water systems throughout the nation and EPA's Science Advisory Board assessed benefits.

Whitman reiterated that the additional study and consultation have not delayed the compliance date for implementing a new standard for arsenic in 2006. "Instead it has reinforced the basis for the decision," said Whitman. "I said in April that we would obtain the necessary scientific and cost review to ensure a standard that fully protects the health of all Americans, we did that, and we are reassured by all of the data that significant reductions are necessary. As required by the Safe Drinking Water Act, a standard of 10 ppb protects public health based on the best available science and ensures that the cost of the standard is achievable."

Nearly 97 percent of the water systems affected by this rule are small systems that serve less than 10,000 people each. EPA estimates the number of water systems affected by the new rule at approximately 4,000. EPA plans to provide $20 million over the next two years for the research and development of more cost-effective technologies. The agency also will provide technical assistance and training to the operators of small systems, which will reduce their compliance costs, according to Whitman.

EPA also plans to work with small communities to maximize grants and loans available under current State Revolving Fund and Rural Utilities Service programs of the Department of Agriculture. Last year EPA provided more than $600 million in grants and loans to water systems for drinking water compliance.

"As required by the Safe Drinking Water Act, a standard of 10 ppb protects public health based on the best available science and ensures that the cost of the standard is achievable," said Whitman. "Our goal is to provide clean, safe, and affordable drinking water to all Americans."

edited by Sandy Smith

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