Because numerous Michigan communities have arsenic in their drinking water supplies, I wanted to provide this update on the national arsenic in drinking water standard.
For those of you who have been following the heated debate on where the USEPA should set the national arsenic in drinking water standard, the pre-proposal public comment period ended at 5:00 p.m. this evening. By 7:00 p.m. I heard my first report on NPR that the Bush Administration will propose the standard at 10 parts per billion (ppb). By 8:00 p.m., a more detailed story hit the airwaves.
I suppose this should be considered a major victory because the standard wasn't weakened from what the Clinton Administration established as its final standard last January (10 ppb). Unfortunately, taxpayers footed the bill for a VERY expensive review process that has likely led to a delay in implementing the new standard.
I served as a member of EPA's national arsenic in drinking water cost review panel last summer so I am extremely familiar with the politics around this standard from ALL aspects. The results of our panel's review, coupled with those of two other review panels AND the volume of comments the agency received between July 19th and tonight, clearly pushed the EPA to not move off of 10 ppb. (Nationally, CWA ushered in more than 55,000 comments to Bush, Whitman, Congress and the EPA docket -- including 4,005 letters collected in numerous MI communities and telewires sent through our phone canvass. Numerous other groups worked on this issue as well so we know the Agency was swamped by groups such as NRDC, USPIRG, Consumer Federation of America, and others.)
The problem with this victory is that the EPA knows it needs to go further in protecting the public's health. Because commonly accessible and affordable laboratory techniques can only detect to 3 ppb, the environmental community has chosen this standard as its target. We think it should be zero ... as do most people with whom we've spoken about this issue. They don't like the fact that "0 ppb" is not a choice.
Within days, a new docket will open for public comments on its 10 ppb standard. The National Academy of Science's "Arsenic in Drinking Water: 2001 update, which was undertaken at EPA's direction, estimated the following combined risk of fatal cancer at four standard levels:
3 ppb 10 in 10,000
5 ppb 15 in 10,000
10 ppb 30 in 10,000
20 ppb 70 in 10,000 (this is the standard for which the 10 ppb opponents were pushing last Spring)
EPA's least protective standard is 1 in 10,000, which means one person in every 10,000 risks dying from cancern from drinking a regulated drinking water contaminant. EPA's most protective standard protects 1 in 1,000,000 people from the risk of dying from cancery caused by such contaminants.
We MUST do better than this...and we can. The cost review working group recommended additional federal funding for those communities needing assistance with arsenic removal. Just because some communities will struggle financially more than others doesn't mean we should leave lull the public into believing that it's okay to leave even 3 ppb of arsenic in our drinking water. It needs to come out...and we need to help those communities with affordability concerns.
Finally, several Michigan groups petitioned MDEQ to set the standard at a level which is truly protective of the public's health. Our petition was rejected at the time pending the outcome of EPA's review process. It's time the MDEQ steps up to the plate and does the right thing to ensure the arsenic is removed from our water. Wouldn't it be great if the Engler Administration/MDEQ actually proposed 3 ppb on their own?! Hopefully, we will soon have an Administration that would do this. In the meantime, we will respond to their rejection now that EPA has finished its review; the facts speak for themselves.
Do others want to join with us in petitioning the MDEQ again? Please let me know!
Cyndi Roper, Michigan Director
Clean Water Action and Clean Water Fund
1345 Monroe Ave., NW, Suite 216
Grand Rapids, MI 49505
616.742.4072 or 616.776.9712