US Government performs u-turn on water standard

US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Whitman has announced that the arsenic standard in drinking water will actually be set at 10 parts per billion (ppb), the level set by the Clinton Administration.

Suspending the Clinton-era standard was one of the first environmental steps taken by the Bush Administration (see related

story), with Whitman saying that, although she recognised that the level needed to be lowered, the scientific indicators were unclear as to whether the

standard needed to go as low as 10 ppb. However, a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) found that even Clinton’s lower arsenic level may be too high (see related


Whitman says that she arrived at her decision after reviewing new science and data that had come to light since the original study by the NAS in 1999 and taking advice from three expert panels, the NAS, the National Drinking Water Advisory Council and EPA’s Science Advisory Board assessed benefits. The Administrator 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”, she said. “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% of the water systems affected by this rule are small systems that serve less than 10,000 people each. 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 operators of small systems, which will reduce their compliance

costs, Whitman said.

“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. “This standard will improve

the safety of drinking water for millions of

Americans, and better protect against the risk of

cancer, heart disease and diabetes.”

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