GAO Study Blasts EPA Performance on Lead, Copper

A U.S. Government Accountablity Office (GAO) report has said the Environmental Protection Agency's lead and copper rule may be putting public health at risk.

A U.S. Government Accountability Office (GAO) report has said the Environmental Protection Agency’s lead and copper rule may be putting public health at risk. Several congressmen requested the report following the disclosure of high levels of lead in the drinking water in Washington, D.C., in 2004.

The GAO report said EPA should give enforcement of the lead rule a high priority because lead exposure is a serious health threat to children and pregnant women -- especially children, who retain about 68% of the lead that enters their bodies (versus 1% for adults).

GAO report found that through June 2005, the EPA lacked information regarding the implementation of actions required to reduce lead in drinking water for more than 70% of the nation’s community water systems.

“Few schools and child care facilities have tested their water supplies for lead -- or adopted other measures to protect users from lead contamination,” GAO said, adding that “no focal point exists at either the national or state level to collect and analyze test results.”

GAO said EPA’s compliance data indicated that 49 large and medium water systems were in violation of the action level and appeared to be on reduced monitoring schedules.

Sen. James Jeffords (I-Vermont), the ranking minority member of the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee, has filed a bill to require the removal of all lead from drinking water.

“This GAO report confirms that there are large holes in federal safe drinking water regulations,” he said. “The EPA has failed to act in a meaningful way to plug these gaps, even after the drinking water in the nation’s capital was ‘off-limits’ for months.”

Board Investigates Treatment Plant Explosion

The U.S. Chemical Safety and Hazard Investigation Board (CSB) was investigating a Jan. 11 explosion at a Daytona Beach, Florida, wastewater treatment plant that killed two workers and injured a third.

CSB said the accident occurred as a cutting torch was being used near a tank of methanol, a highly flammable chemical commonly known as wood alcohol.

CSB Chairman Carolyn Merritt said, “This was a serious incident involving the tragic loss of life at a government-owned facility where work activity is not overseen by any government entity. The wastewater treatment worksite was not subject to any outside safety inspections or regulations, a situation that is common in many states. We want to find out whether that was a factor in this accident and then decide what should be done about it.”

CSB lead investigator Robert Hall said the workers were repairing a metal roof damaged by hurricanes last year.

“We have found evidence of a deflagration, that is, a moderate-size explosion inside a tank of methanol which resulted in the failure of pipes leading to the tank. This in turn led to the total release of liquid methanol. We are investigating the precise ignition source which appears to be related to the sparking from a cutting torch in use nearby.”

CSB Recommendations Specialist Jordan Barab noted that in more than half of the states, including Florida, Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) regulations do not apply to public employees’ work places.

“Some states have laws that provide some coverage to public employees. Florida was one of those, until it abolished its Division of Safety in 2000,” Barab said.

CSB is an independent federal agency that investigates industrial chemical accidents. It does not issue citations or fines but does make safety recommendations to plants, industry organizations, labor groups, and regulatory agencies.

Watchdog Group Targets Bottled Water

The Earth Policy Institute has warned that increasing the use of bottled water is the not the answer to the world’s drinking water needs.

The Washington, D.C. base group said global consumption of bottled water was 154 billion liters (41 billion gallons) in 2004, up 57% from the 98 billion liters consumed five years earlier.

The group said demand for bottled water is increasing even in areas where tap water is safe to drink. It said in the industrial world bottled water is often no healthier than tap water, but it can cost up to 10,000 times more.

It said the U.S. is the world’s largest consumer of bottled water at 26 billion liters in 2004, or about one 8-ounce glass per person every day. Mexico ranked second at 18 billion liters, China and Brazil followed at nearly 12 billion liters each, and Italy and Germany ranked fifth and sixth at just over 10 billion liters each.

The group said in contrast to tap water, which is distributed through an energy-efficient infrastructure, transporting bottled water long distances involves burning massive quantities of fossil fuels. It said making plastic bottles to meet U.S. demand for bottled water requires more than 1.5 million barrels of oil annually and 86% of those bottles become garbage or litter.

The group said about 40% of bottled water begins as tap water and often the only difference is added minerals. It said EPA quality standards for tap water are more stringent than the Food and Drug Administration’s standards for bottled water.

League of Cities Survey

The National League of Cities (NLC) has reported that in early 2006 cities were most concerned about the use of eminent domain, preserving the local taxing authority, and state fiscal support for local governments.

NLC surveyed state municipal leagues as states begin their legislative sessions. All 34 (out of 43) of the leagues responding to the survey said eminent domain was a leading concern, due to the U.S. Supreme Court decision (in Kelo vs. City of New London) that held property could be taken from landowners to advance the economic development efforts of another private entity.

State municipal league officials also cited land use development; personnel and labor issues; telecommunications issues; home rule and local preemption; and annexation as critical issues for cities.

Another NLC survey asked 276 cities about their fiscal conditions in 2005. It found that 48% had increased fees and charges for city services in order to balance budgets during the year. Only 26% increased in property taxes, while even smaller numbers increased sales tax rates, income tax rates, and other tax rates.

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