EPA to invest $20 million in arsenic research

The US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) will invest $20 million over the next two years for researching technologies and treatment methods that small water systems can use to meet the agency’s recently proposed lowered arsenic standard of 10 parts per billion (ppb) (see related story).

Point-of-use (POU) and point-of-entry (POE) water treatment technologies are some of the options being considered, according to Matthias Kubr, industry analyst for international consulting firm Frost & Sullivan, reports WaterTechOnline.

The 10-ppb arsenic limit will offer a unique opportunity for growth for POU manufacturers, according to Frost & Sullivan research. The market is likely to see an increase in demand for these systems in coming years, as some small water system operators will choose a decentralized water treatment solution to meet this new arsenic limit by 2006, Frost & Sullivan said.

POU/POE products are especially attractive to community water systems serving less than 500 people, according to Frost & Sullivan, which reported an economic study done for the EPA showed acquisition costs of individual reverse osmosis (RO) units are lower when compared with a centrally located treatment system.

The EPA said there are more than 32,000 community water systems with a system size below 500 people that serve around 5.2 million people from both ground and surface water sources. These numbers offer a compelling opportunity for manufacturers of POU devices, especially reverse osmosis (RO) manufacturers, Frost & Sullivan reported.

According to the EPA, nearly 97% of the affected water systems in the United States are small systems serving less than 10,000 people. Many of these systems, especially those serving fewer than 3,000, often utilize only minimal water treatment. The incoming water is often only disinfected before it enters the distribution system, according to Frost & Sullivan.

The consulting group said the major issue in the discussion of new arsenic limits is not that the often naturally occurring element is poisonous, but rather the associated costs to water treatment facilities, especially smaller ones, to meet any new limits.

In order to determine whether the POU option is suited for a small system, or whether a centralized water treatment system is better, water quality and arsenic levels of the incoming water will need to be considered for each application, Frost & Sullivan said.

Current RO systems will need to be certified for their removal capabilities or redesigned as needed. To ensure proper application, manufacturers will have to work closely with the EPA and water system operators to establish the best solution for each system. This will also benefit in promoting the technology to administrators and end users, and RO unit manufacturers will be able to take advantage of these new regulations by promoting additional benefits RO can offer, as these systems remove other harmful chemicals from the water, Frost & Sullivan said.

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