- The Washington Times - Thursday, November 1, 2001

Reversing course, the Bush administration will accept a new, tougher arsenic standard for drinking water that was issued in the last days of the Clinton presidency.
Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Christie Whitman said the decision will reduce the maximum of arsenic allowed in drinking water from 50 parts per billion a level first set in 1942 to 10 parts per billion by 2006.
President Clinton had adopted the tougher standard of 10 ppb three days before leaving office. The Bush administration suspended that action and set it back to 50 ppb, citing at least $200 million in new costs to local communities and questioning the scientific basis behind the new standard.
"A standard of 10 ppb protects public health based on the best available science and ensures that the cost of the standard is achievable," Mrs. Whitman said yesterday in a letter to the House Appropriations Committee chairman, Rep. C.W. Bill Young, Florida Republican.
One part per billion is the equivalent of one drop of water in a 10,000-gallon swimming pool.
The new rule had been suspended until February, leaving in place the old standard. The EPA began gathering public comment in July, and yesterday was the deadline for submissions.
Last month, the National Academy of Sciences issued a report to Mrs. Whitman saying the agency had greatly underestimated the cancer risks of arsenic in drinking water.
The risks are much higher than the agency had acknowledged under the Clinton administration as well as the current Bush administration, even for low levels of arsenic in tap water, the report said.
Arsenic is both a naturally occurring substance and industrial byproduct. It is found at high concentrations in Western mining states and other areas heavy with coal burning and copper smelting.
The academy report said even at three parts per billion, the risk of bladder and lung cancer from arsenic exposure is between four and 10 deaths per 10,000 people. The EPA's maximum acceptable level of risk for the past two decades for all drinking water contaminants has been one death in 10,000.
The report pointed to health effects other than cancer that should be considered, including heart disease, high blood pressure and diabetes. It also rejected arguments by industry and some local water utilities that there is a clear, safe threshold below which arsenic does not cause cancer.
Lawsuits by the Natural Resources Defense Council, an environmental group, initially prompted the Clinton administration to propose a standard of five ppb, but after industry protests it was set at 10 ppb.
The EPA estimates one in 20 water systems, or about 4,100 nationwide, will have to treat their water to meet the new standard. Mrs. Whitman said 97 percent of those are small systems serving communities of fewer than 10,000 people. To help ease the financial burden, the EPA plans to provide $20 million for researching the most cost-effective technologies to meet the new standard.
Critics say the new standard will be tough for some to meet.

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