EPA Announces Plan to Develop Perchlorate Regulation

March 1, 2011
Culminating a long and controversial debate, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to develop a regulation setting safety standards limiting the chemical perchlorate in drinking water.

By Patrick Crow, Washington Correspondent

Culminating a long and controversial debate, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) plans to develop a regulation setting safety standards limiting the chemical perchlorate in drinking water.

The decision to undertake a first-ever national standard for perchlorate reverses a 2008 Bush Administration decision and comes after EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson ordered EPA scientists to make a thorough review of the chemical.

The agency said more than 4% of public water systems have detected perchlorate and between 5 million and 17 million people may be served drinking water containing perchlorate.

Perchlorate is both a naturally occurring and man-made chemical best known for its use as rocket fuel ingredient. EPA said research indicates that it may impact the normal function of the thyroid, which produces important developmental hormones.

Separately, the agency also will consider developing a single drinking water regulation for up to 16 toxic chemicals that may pose risks to human health. The group consists of volatile organic compounds such as trichloroethylene and tetrachloroethylene as well as other regulated and some unregulated contaminants that are discharged from industrial operations.

Jackson has begun a strategy of addressing contaminants as groups rather than individually in order to provide public health protections more quickly and also allow utilities to more effectively and efficiently plan for improvements.

AWWA Deputy Executive Director Tom Curtis said, "EPA's decision to move forward on perchlorate regulation is perplexing. Water providers share the agency's interest in protecting public health through the provision of safe water. However, the weight of scientific evidence suggests national regulation of perchlorate in drinking water does not accomplish this goal."

Earlier, Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.), chairman of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, introduced a bill to give EPA 90 days to issue a drinking water health advisory for perchlorate and hexavalent chromium and a year to establish enforceable drinking water standards for both.

AWWA said, "Best available science, not the political process, should be the ultimate driver in regulatory decisions."

Clean Water Action said, "A strong body of scientific data demonstrates that perchlorate poses a serious health threat, as evidenced by California's proposed public health goal of 1 ppb."

The Environmental Working Group said, "Perchlorate contamination from industrial, agricultural and natural sources will continue to pollute us through other food exposures. It demands robust safeguards in water to protect public health."

Fluoride Guidelines

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and EPA are taking another look at the standards and guidelines for fluoride in drinking water.

HHS is proposing that the recommended level of fluoride in drinking water can be set at the lowest end of the current optimal range to prevent tooth decay. EPA is initiating review of the maximum amount of fluoride allowed in drinking water.

The agencies said the actions will maximize the health benefits of water fluoridation while reducing dental fluorosis, in which children receiving too much fluoride. The agencies noted that Americans have access to more sources of fluoride than they did when water fluoridation was first introduced in the U.S. in the 1940s. They also observed that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considers fluoridation of drinking water to be one of the 10 top public health achievements of the 20th Century.

HHS' proposed recommendation of 0.7 milligrams of fluoride per liter of water would replace the current recommended range of 0.7 to 1.2 milligrams. In 2006 the National Academies of Science had urged EPA to update its fluoride health and exposure assessments to take into account bone and dental effects and to consider all sources of fluoride.

AWWA Executive Director David LaFrance said, "The proposed (federal) recommendations properly take into account new scientific data and recognize that people today have access to more sources of fluoride.

"AWWA will carefully study the new recommendations and actively assist the water community in interpreting and responding to them."

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) said, "We've had to wait too long, but the government's announcement marks a belated recognition that many American children are at risk from excess fluoride in drinking water and other sources. HHS has taken an important first step. Now it's up to water utilities to respond and for the EPA to lower its too-high legal limit on fluoride in drinking water, which is more than five times the new maximum being recommended by HHS."

AWWA, WEF Agreement

AWWA and the Water Environment Federation (WEF) have agreed to cooperate more closely on programs, services and major policy issues.

The two groups said they would work "to develop a cohesive voice for the water community by encouraging collaboration between our members, coordinating programs and services, and developing consensus on major water policy issues."

"This resolution enhances our existing efforts to work more closely together to advance sound water policy, the interests of our members and the publics they serve," said WEF President Jeannette Brown.

AWWA President Joseph Mantua said, "The water industry has changed in recent years, and our work is no longer easily defined as either 'water' or 'wastewater.' AWWA and WEF recognize that, now more than ever, increased collaboration will benefit members from both organizations and improve our collective effectiveness, particularly in matters of public policy."

AWWA and WEF currently are cooperating on several projects and are planning a "Water Matters" event April 4-5 that will bring water professionals to Washington, D.C., to lobby congressional leaders.

Both organizations also have announced leadership changes.

The AWWA board has selected Charlie Anderson as president-elect. He will begin a year-long term as president in 2012. Anderson was deputy city manager of Arlington, TX, before retiring in 2005.

In January, Jeff Eger took office as WEF's executive director. Eger is the former executive director of Sanitation District 1 in Fort Wright, KY.

In other Washington news:

-- Peter Silva, EPA's assistant administrator for the Office of Water, has resigned. Nancy Stoner, deputy assistant administrator, will head the water office until a successor is named.

-- EPA has disapproved a 2002 Vermont water quality plan that set phosphorus targets for discharges into Lake Champlain. It previously had approved the plan, prompting the Conservation Law Foundation to sue. EPA now says the plan is inadequate because it does not ensure that substantial phosphorus reductions will be achieved.

-- The U.S. Conference of Mayors has given Napa, Calif., and Sandy City, Utah, its annual water conservation achievement awards. They were selected from 54 applicants.

-- EPA has awarded the Water Research Foundation $600,000 to study lead service line (LSL) lining and coating technologies as alternatives to full or partial LSL replacement. Researchers also will evaluate coatings to protect and repair both lead and copper service lines.

-- The agency awarded Manhattan, Kan., $462,000 toward its $1.4 million expansion of its drinking water system. The project is expected to be completed by the summer of 2012. It includes 10,200 feet of 16-inch water line in the Konza Valley area.

-- The Association of Clean Water Agencies again has urged the Obama Administration to support the creation of a clean water trust fund that would fund the Clean Water State Revolving Fund program independent of the congressional appropriations process.

-- EPA said Evansville, Ind., has agreed to make sewer system improvements costing about $500 million to resolve a 2009 federal lawsuit over sewage overflows into the Ohio River. The city also will increase capacity at its two wastewater treatment plants and pay civil penalties of $420,000 to the U.S. and $70,000 to the state.

-- The agency said Bonners Ferry, Idaho, has agreed to pay a $12,300 penalty for exceeding discharge limits for Escherichia coli, biochemical oxygen demand, total suspended solids, pH and total residual chlorine. From June 2005 through May 2010, the city's wastewater plant had more than 1,600 permit limit violations.


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