EPA Administrator Christie Whitman announced Wednesday that she is moving forward to put in place a new standard to reduce levels of arsenic in drinking water, but critics say scrapping the original EPA standard and asking for a new study means weaker protections.
Whitman said she would establish a new standard within nine months, and she asked the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) for an expedited study looking at the impact of a range of possible reductions.
"The Bush administration is committed to protecting the environment and the health of all Americans," said Whitman. "We are taking action to ensure that a standard will be put in place in a timely manner that provides clean, safe and affordable drinking water for the nation."
Before the Clinton EPA strengthened drinking water standards, those levels
were set at 50 parts per billion parts per billion (ppb), based on 1942 data. Then, in January, EPA lowered allowable levels to 10 ppb.
NAS is being asked to look at new studies regarding health effects that were received after the previous comment period closed and to review EPA''s risk analysis of arsenic.
The academy already reported that the present standard of 50 ppb is too high, but it did not specify what a protective level should be.
Whitman said she wanted a panel of scientists at the academy to examine a standard in the range of 3-20 ppb.
She argued that there was insufficient evidence to justify the $200 million annual cost to municipalities, states and industry of meeting the Clinton standard by 2006.
The new standard, once established, will take effect at the same time that EPA''s previous proposal was scheduled to go into place.
The Sierra Club sharply criticized the administration for rejecting decades of scientific study on the dangers of drinking arsenic.
"By ignoring decades of study and considering doubling the amount of arsenic allowed in our water, President Bush is making an unsafe, irresponsible decision that pleases industry at our families expense," said Carl Pope, the Sierra Club''s executive director.
"There is no news in this and no good news in this," Pope continued. "President Bush is demanding more delay, continued consideration of unsafe arsenic levels in our drinking water and more scientific study of an issue that''s been exhaustively examined for decades."
According to NAS, long-term exposure to low concentrations of arsenic in drinking water can lead to skin, bladder, lung and prostate cancer.
Noncancer effects of ingesting arsenic at low levels include cardiovascular disease, diabetes and anemia, as well as reproductive, developmental, immunological and neurological effects.
by Virginia Sutcliffe