EPA Expands Search for Drinking Water Contaminants

April 1, 2008
Expanding its search for possible drinking water contaminants, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has asked for public comment on 104 chemicals or microbes.

by Patrick Crow, Washhington Correspondent

Expanding its search for possible drinking water contaminants, the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) has asked for public comment on 104 chemicals or microbes.

“EPA is casting a broader scientific net for potential regulation of chemicals and microbes in drinking water,” said Assistant Administrator for Water Benjamin Grumbles.

EPA’s draft Contaminant Candidate List (CCL) included 93 chemical contaminants or groups and 11 microbes that the agency said it might regulate under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA).

The draft list includes chemicals used in commerce, pesticides, biological toxins, disinfection byproducts, and waterborne pathogens. The agency evaluated 7,500 chemicals and microbes and selected the 104 based on their potential to pose health risks through drinking water exposure.

The CCL list is the third one that EPA has issued. If all 104 contaminants are endorsed, it would double the total of the first and second CCLs, which were drafted under a much less stringent methodology.

The draft list includes acetochlor, alachlor, metolachlor, perchlorate, and MTBE from the earlier lists. New contaminants included several nitrosamines and PFOA. The microbials list contains only two from the prior tally, calciviruses and helicobacter pylori.

EPA used a new approach to draft the latest CCL list, relying on expert input early in the process and recommendations from a larger number of groups including stakeholders, the National Research Council and the National Drinking Water Advisory Council.

Proposed 2009 Budget Cuts CWRF Again

The Bush administration’s proposed fiscal 2009 budget would slash the Clean Water state revolving fund (SRF) and only slightly increase the Drinking Water SRF.

The administration asked for $842 million for the drinking water SRF, up $13 million from actual 2008 appropriations, and $555 million for the clean water fund, down $134 million from allocations. The proposals reflected a $400 million cut in EPA’s budget to $7.1 billion.

In the Senate, Environment and Public Works Committee Chair Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) said deep cuts at EPA would impair “programs that help local governments pay to cleanup sewage and protect rivers, streams, and lakes from pollution, and for other local water projects.”

The budget proposals followed a recent EPA report that the nation needs to invest $202.5 billion to control wastewater pollution in the next 20 years (see March issue).

That EPA study prompted members of the House Transportation and Infrastructure Committee to ask the Government Accountability Office to examine ways to meet the nation’s water infrastructure needs.

Chairman James Oberstar (D-Minn.) said, “The EPA’s own data shows that the ever-increasing need for water infrastructure investment is not being met. To guarantee consistent long-term funding for water infrastructure, we must identify a dedicated source of revenue that is both logical and sustainable.”

The National Association of Clean Water Agencies noted, “Local communities already pay more than 95% of the cost of meeting their obligations under the Clean Water Act. Without a strong federal recommitment to clean water in the form of a trust fund, communities risk losing the gains they have made over the past 35 years to clean up the nation’s waters.”

Drinking Water Utilities Study Climate Change

Eight major water utilities have formed a coalition to study the long-term challenge that climate change poses to delivering high-quality drinking water.

The Water Utility Climate Alliance (WUCA) consists of Denver Water, the Metropolitan Water District of Southern California, New York City Department of Environmental Protection, Portland Water Bureau, San Diego County Water Authority, the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, Seattle Public Utilities and the Southern Nevada Water Authority. Together, they supply drinking water for more than 36 million people.

WUCA will work to improve research into the impacts of climate change on water utilities, develop strategies for adapting to climate change, and find ways to reduce their greenhouse gas emissions.

“Climate change is expected to have a significant impact on already challenged water supplies in Southern California and throughout the nation,” said Maureen Stapleton, general manager of the San Diego County Water Authority.

Susan Leal, general manager of the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission, said water utilities are among the first responders to the effects of climate change. “Our systems are facing risk due to diminishing snowpack, bigger storms, more frequent drought and rising sea levels. We need to be organized to respond to these risks.”

Affordability Criteria For Small Communities

The Small Business Administration’s (SBA) has recommended that EPA reconsider its affordability and small systems variance policies for small communities under the SDWA.

Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), senior Republican on the Environment and Public Works Committee, said that streamlining and updating the regulations would help ease the federal regulatory burden on small communities.

Inhofe and Sens. Ben Nelson (D-Neb.), Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) and Norm Coleman (R-Minn.) also have filed a bill to reverse the EPA policy.

Inhofe said, “It is my hope that our bill and SBA’s interest in this policy will correct EPA’s policy and assist small systems in coming into compliance with SDWA regulations.”

The National Rural Water Association (NRWA) said EPA won’t allow small communities to use economical treatment options (small system variance technologies) because of an agency policy that families can afford annual water rates of 2.5% of median household income (about $1,200 per household).

“The current EPA policy threatens public health in low-income rural and small communities by forcing households to pay for increased utilities for EPA compliance that does not improve the safety of their drinking water,” NRWA said.

The bill would create a pilot program to demonstrate technologies and approaches for systems of all sizes to comply with the rules. It also would require EPA to examine the science behind the rules.

Also, the agency would have to identify barriers to using the point of entry treatment, point of use treatment, and package plant treatments. And EPA would be banned from enforcing a federal standard against a water system unless the system has received funds for the federal share of the upgrade.

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