New arsenic standard is rescinded
The Bush Administration has rescinded the decision to lower the arsenic standard for drinking water. Approved during the last days of the Clinton Administration, the standard would have reduced the acceptable level of arsenic from 50 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion, and it would have required 3,000 U.S. communities to upgrade their water systems.
The 10 ppb standard was proposed by EPA in response to a lawsuit by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), a non-profit environmental organization based in New York. According to NRDC, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) concluded in 1999 that arsenic in drinking water causes bladder, lung and skin cancer, and possibly causes liver and kidney cancer. The NAS recommended “downward revision [of the 50 ppb standard] as promptly as possible.” The new standard would have brought U.S. limits in line with those adopted by the World Health Organization.
EPA Administrator Christie Whitman withdrew the new rule March 20, pending further study. “I want to be sure that the conclusions about arsenic in the rule are supported by the best possible science,” she said, adding that cities and states “have raised serious questions about whether the costs of the rule were fully understood when the rule was signed.”
Environmentalists are criticizing what they see as political payback for the mining industry’s support of the Bush presidential campaign. “While some arsenic occurs naturally, the mining industry’s operations widely pollute our drinking water with arsenic and other toxic metals,” say representatives of the San Francisco-based Sierra Club. “This move is the latest in several recent environmental attacks by Bush that put industry ahead of the American public.”
“This decision will force millions of Americans to continue to drink arsenic-laced water,” says Erik Olson, senior attorney for NRDC. “Many will die from arsenic-related cancers and other diseases … .” The council plans to sue EPA in response to the rule’s withdrawal.