EPA to propose withdrawal of arsenic in drinking water standard; seeks independent reviews
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman announced today that EPA will propose to withdraw the pending arsenic standard for drinking water that was issued on January 22.
March 20, 2001—U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman announced today that EPA will propose to withdraw the pending arsenic standard for drinking water that was issued on January 22. The rule would have reduced the acceptable level of arsenic in water from 50 parts per billion to 10 ppb.
EPA will seek independent reviews of both the science behind the standard and of the estimates of the costs to communities of implementing the rule. A final decision on withdrawal is expected after the public has an opportunity to comment.
"I am committed to safe and affordable drinking water for all Americans. I want to be sure that the conclusions about arsenic in the rule are supported by the best available science. When the federal government imposes costs on communities-especially small communities-we should be sure the facts support imposing the federal standard," said Whitman. "I am moving quickly to review the arsenic standard so communities that need to reduce arsenic in drinking water can proceed with confidence once the permanent standard is confirmed."
The American Water Works Association praised the step.
"Gov. Whitman's announcement reflects the complexity of the issues at hand and the need for the best information available to be used in the rule-making process," said AWWA Executive Director Jack Hoffbuhr.
"AWWA firmly supports a full review of the arsenic rule to ensure that public health is protected in the most practical way possible, and stands ready to assist USEPA in its efforts to do so."
While scientists agree that the previous standard of 50 parts per billion should be lowered, there is no consensus on a particular safe level. Independent review of the science behind the final standard will help clear up uncertainties that have been raised about the health benefits of reducing arsenic to 10 parts per billion in drinking water.
"It is clear that arsenic, while naturally occurring, is something that needs to be regulated. Certainly the standard should be less than 50 ppb, but the scientific indicators are unclear as to whether the standard needs to go as low as 10 ppb," said Whitman.
"This decision will not lessen any existing protections for drinking water. The standards would remain the same, whether the rule went through or not, until it was time to enforce it under the compliance schedule five to nine years from now," said Whitman. "But, in the interim, EPA will examine what may have been a rushed decision."
Some cities and states that will have to comply with the arsenic rule have raised serious questions about whether the costs of the rule were fully understood when the rule was signed in early January. PA estimates the cost to be about $200 million per year. Many small communities will be affected by the drinking water standard for arsenic, making it especially important to ensure that the Safe Drinking Water Act provision allowing balancing of costs is based on accurate information.
Arsenic is an element that occurs naturally in several parts of the country. The highest concentrations of arsenic occur mostly in the Western states, particularly in the Southwest. At unsafe levels, arsenic causes cancer and other diseases.
EPA today will ask for a 60-day extension of the effective date of the pending arsenic standard for drinking water, and expects to release a timetable for review within the next few weeks.
Whitman plans to attend the Western Governors Association meeting in Denver, Colorado on March 22 and March 23, where she plans to participate in round table discussions on arsenic with stakeholders.