New arsenic standard offers stronger protection, stiff challenges

With the establishment of a strong new federal standard for arsenic in drinking water, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) called on Congress to ensure the rule's massive compliance costs will not stymie its public health benefits to the nation.

DENVER, Colo. — With the establishment of a strong new federal standard for arsenic in drinking water, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) today called on Congress to ensure the rule's massive compliance costs will not stymie its public health benefits to the nation. The new standard reduces the existing standard by 80 percent, but at a cost of $600 million annually and $6 billion in capital outlays that some communities may find insurmountable on their own.

"AWWA has long supported a stronger arsenic standard," said AWWA Executive Director Jack Hoffbuhr "Water utilities, ratepayers and Congress must now work to ensure that the tougher standard can be implemented in every community impacted by it."

U.S.EPA set the new arsenic standard for drinking water at 10 parts per billion (ppb), a sharp reduction from the 50 ppb standard that has stood since 1942. The U.S. standard is now aligned with the existing standards of the World Health Organization and the European Union, as well as with recommendations made by AWWA over a year ago.

The rule is expected to impact about 10 percent of the nation's community drinking water providers, and the expensive new treatment processes it requires makes the arsenic rule one of the most costly drinking water regulations ever.

Complying with the new standard could cost individual ratepayers in the desert Southwest, Midwest and New England as much as $2000 a year. To ease this burden, AWWA will initiate efforts in the new Congress to procure adequate federal assistance for those communities hit hardest by the requirements of the new rule. AWWA and its members will also carefully consider U.S.EPA's response to the numerous scientific and cost-benefit issues raised during the rulemaking process.

"The rule strengthens public health protection, but at a significant cost," concluded Hoffbuhr. "With some help from Congress, communities will be able to find the financial balance necessary to promote the health of their residents."

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