The Bush Administration Tuesday withdrew a standard set by the EPA earlier this year for reducing arsenic in America''s drinking water.
The standard, passed in the final days of the Clinton Administration, lowered arsenic in the nation''s drinking water from 50 parts per billion (ppb) to 10 ppb.
In general, arsenic can contaminate drinking water through natural processes, such as erosion of rocks and minerals. It can also contaminate drinking water when used for industrial purposed.
The earlier 50 ppb arsenic standard for drinking water was set by EPA in 1975, based on a Public Health Service standard originally set in 1942.
In March 1999, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) completed a review of updated data on arsenic and recommended that EPA lower the standard as soon as possible.
The Sierra Club expressed grave concern over the Bush Administration''s decision to withdraw the recently revised standard.
"EPA scientists know the level of cancer-causing arsenic in our drinking water is unsafe and should be lowered," said Carl Pope, executive director of the Sierra Club. "This decision suggests the Bush Administration is caving to the mining industry''s demands to allow continued use of dangerous mining techniques. The current guidelines for arsenic in drinking water based on 1942 data, are dangerously outdated."
According to NAS, long-term exposure to low concentrations of arsenic in drinking water can lead to skin, bladder, lung and prostate cancer.
EPA released a statement saying that further public comment is required on the standard.
"EPA will seek independent reviews of both the science behind the standard and of the estimates of the costs to communities of implementing the rule. A final decision on withdrawal is expected after the public has an opportunity to comment," said the statement.
EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said she is committed to safe and affordable drinking water for all Americans.
"I want to be sure that the conclusions about arsenic in the rule are supported by the best available science," said Whitman. "When the federal government imposes costs on communities -- especially small communities -- we should be sure the facts support imposing the federal standard."
Some cities and states that will have to comply with the arsenic rule have raised questions about whether costs of the rule were fully understood when the rule was signed in early January.
EPA estimates the cost to be about $200 million per year.
Whitman said she is moving quickly to review the arsenic standard so communities that need to reduce arsenic in drinking water can proceed.
The Sierra club sees the withdrawal as Bush''s latest move to put industry ahead of the American public. Last week Bush reversed a campaign promise to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide.
"While some arsenic occurs naturally, the mining industry''s operations widely pollute our drinking water with arsenic and other toxic materials," said Ed Hopkins, director of Sierra Club''s Environmental Quality program. "Americans cannot afford to delay new protections against arsenic any longer. The Bush Administration needs to focus more on the needs of Americans and less on the demands of special interests like the mining industry."
EPA asked for a 60-day extension of the effective date of the pending arsenic standard, and expects to release a timetable for review within the next few weeks.
by Virginia Sutcliffe