U.S. Environmental Protection Agency Administrator
Christie Whitman announced on October 31 that the arsenic standard in
drinking water will be 10 parts per billion (ppb). "Throughout this
process, I have made it clear that EPA intends to strengthen the standard
for arsenic by substantially lowering the maximum acceptable level from 50
parts per billion (ppb), which has been the lawful limit for nearly half a
century," Whitman wrote in a letter to the conferees on the Veterans
Affairs, Housing and Urban Development and Independent Agencies
"The Bush Administration is committed to
protecting the environment and the health of all Americans," Whitman
said. "This standard will improve the safety of drinking water for
millions of Americans, and better protect against the risk of cancer,
heart disease and diabetes."
When the Administrator initiated review of the
standard for arsenic, there were indications that additional information
was available that had not been considered previously. She asked for time
to look at the new science and data that have come to light since the
original (1999) study by the National Academy of Sciences on this matter.
Whitman also asked that three expert panels review all the new and
existing materials. The National Academy of Sciences looked at risk, the
National Drinking Water Advisory Council examined costs to water systems
throughout the nation and EPA's Science Advisory Board assessed benefits.
Whitman today reiterated that the additional study
and consultation have not delayed the compliance date for implementing a
new standard for arsenic in 2006. "Instead it has reinforced the
basis for the decision," said Whitman. "I said in April that we
would obtain the necessary scientific and cost review to ensure a standard
that fully protects the health of all Americans, we did that, and we are
reassured by all of the data that significant reductions are necessary. As
required by the Safe Drinking Water Act, a standard of 10 ppb protects
public health based on the best available science and ensures that the
cost of the standard is achievable."
Nearly 97 percent of the water systems affected by
this rule are small systems that serve less than 10,000 people each. EPA
plans to provide $20 million over the next two years for the research and
development of more cost-effective technologies. The Agency also will
provide technical assistance and training to operators of small systems,
which will reduce their compliance costs, Whitman told conferees. EPA will
work with small communities to maximize grants and loans under current
State Revolving Fund and Rural Utilities Service programs of the
Department of Agriculture. Last year EPA provided more than $600 million
in grants and loans to water systems for drinking water compliance.
"Our goal is to provide clean, safe, and affordable drinking water to
all Americans," said Whitman.