House Upholds Arsenic Standards

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http://wire.ap.org/?SLUG=ARSENIC%2dRULESJULY 28, 03:44 EDT House Upholds Arsenic Standards

By JIM ABRAMS Associated Press Writer EPA Administrator Christie Whitman AP/Alex Brandon [25K] WASHINGTON (AP) Congress clashed with the Bush administration again over environmental policy with a House vote to maintain arsenic standards for drinking water set by the Clinton White House.

Democrats, with the help of 19 Republicans, on Friday pushed through an amendment to a fiscal 2002 spending bill that bars the Environmental Protection Agency from weakening standards set just before President Clinton left office. The vote was 218-189.

``Today's arsenic threat is not fiction, but all too real,'' said Rep. David Bonior, D-Mich., a chief sponsor of the measure. ``We can't continue to allow arsenic to poison America's drinking water.'' The administration was quick to condemn the House vote. ``I am disappointed that the U.S. House of Representatives decided to prejudge the outcome of this issue,'' said EPA Administrator Christie Whitman. The vote, she said, ``will not put a standard in place any sooner than planned under EPA's science-based approach.''

Congress has previously defied the White House on other environmental issues, particularly President Bush's plans to increase the domestic energy supply by expanding oil and gas exploration and drilling. The House has voted to limit or ban drilling in the Gulf of Mexico, the Great Lakes and in national monuments.

The Clinton administration, as one of its last acts, issued a ruling that set allowable arsenic levels in drinking water at 10 parts per billion, compared with the 50 ppb level that has been in effect since 1942. The new ruling was to go into effect in March, with full compliance required by 2006.

But in March the Bush administration, as part of its campaign to review regulations imposed in the waning days of the Clinton presidency, put the new standards on hold, subject to further study.

It also delayed the effective date of the rule until next February, while leaving a 2006 target date for full compliance.

Whitman has not ruled out the 10 ppb or even a tougher standard, but her office has also sought public comment on a 20 ppb level. She has argued that there's still not hard scientific evidence to justify the estimated $200 million a year it would cost municipalities, states and industry to meet the Clinton standards by 2006.

``This has been studied for more than 20 years and to say that this was rushed through or not based on sound science is absurd,'' said Erik D. Olson, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. The council, citing National Academy of Sciences estimates, says the total cancer risk is one in 500 for people drinking tap water with 10 ppb arsenic, but one in 250 at the 20 ppb level.

The academy called for stricter standards in a 1999 report, saying arsenic was a potent human carcinogen linked to lung, bladder and skin cancer.

House Democratic leader Dick Gephardt of Missouri said Bush ``rejected decades of science showing that high levels of arsenic can harm humans. He showed his true environmental colors by apparently putting special interests ahead of people's health.''

But Rep. Heather Wilson, R-N.M., emphasized that scientists don't know the health effects of very low levels of arsenic. She said residents of her state, where arsenic occurs naturally in some water supplies, don't have higher levels of the cancers attributed to arsenic.

Wilson said New Mexico had 150 rural water systems in which the naturally occurring level of arsenic was above 10 ppb, and ``we do know that if you set that standard so low, it will force rural water systems to close and we'll go back to having untreated water with wells.''

Other Western lawmakers voiced similar concerns, and it was unclear whether the Senate, where Western senators tend to have more clout, would approve a similar measure. The mining industry is also opposed to the tougher standards. The Senate has yet to take up the spending bill covering veterans, housing and environmental issues.

On the Net:

EPA Office of Water: http://www.epa.gov/ow

Natural Resources Defense Council: http://www.nrdc.org.



-- Tess (webwoman@iamit.com), July 28, 2001

Answers

Fortuneatley I live in a low 'metals' area, aside from iron. Whitman has not ruled out the 10 ppb or even a tougher standard, but her office has also sought public comment on a 20 ppb level. She has argued that there's still not hard scientific evidence to justify the estimated $200 million a year it would cost municipalities, states and industry to meet the Clinton standards by 2006.

``This has been studied for more than 20 years and to say that this was rushed through or not based on sound science is absurd,'' said Erik D. Olson, a senior attorney with the Natural Resources Defense Council. The council, citing National Academy of Sciences estimates, says the total cancer risk is one in 500 for people drinking tap water with 10 ppb arsenic, but one in 250 at the 20 ppb level.

The cost of 1 million people [20%= 1:250, ~250 citizens in the USA] being threaded for cancer costs way more than 200 million dollars!! That's $200 per potential cancer victim! I'll fork over $200 to not be that sick and familiy grief.

-- (perry@ofuzzy1.com), July 28, 2001.


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