National Drinking Water Clearinghouse
West Virginia University
PO Box 6893
Morgantown, WV

News and Notes

Water Treatment Is Going to the Birds

At a recent conference, a research chemist explained that he has discovered a way to make activated carbon out of chicken manure, according to a story in HealthScoutNews. Isabel Lima, research chemist at the Commodity Utilization Research Unit at the Agricultural Research Service’s Southern Regional Research Center in New Orleans, said when manure is made into pellets and activated using a special process, it becomes highly porous and has a large surface area.

Studies showed that the pellets adsorbed copper, which means they may be able to filter other metals out of wastewater. The pellets also hold onto the pollutants at a rate that makes them cheaper than other types of activated carbon currently on the market.
Lima, whose agency is part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, presented her findings recently at a waste management conference in Baltimore. The results are preliminary, but chicken manure does a better job taking some metals from wastewater than traditional materials, said Armand Pepperman, research leader of the Commodity Utilization Research Unit and Lima’s supervisor.

However, it remains to be seen which material is best over the long haul, Pepperman said. Ed Bouwer, a professor of environmental engineering at Johns Hopkins University, said that chicken manure may not be durable, but it may be so cheap that using it once and throwing it away may still be cost-effective.

RUS Loans: Poverty Rate Unchanged; Others Down

Interest rates for Rural Utilities Service (RUS) water and wastewater loans have been announced. The market rate is down slightly, while the intermediate and poverty rates are unchanged. RUS interest rates are issued quarterly at three different levels: the poverty line rate, the intermediate rate, and the market rate. The rate applied to a particular project depends on community income and the type of project being funded.

To qualify for the poverty line rate, two criteria must be met. First, the loan must primarily be used for facilities required to meet health and sanitary standards. Second, the median household income of the area being served must be below 80 percent of the state’s non-metropolitan median income or fall below the federal poverty level. As of April 1, 2003, the federal poverty level was $18,400 for a family of four.

To qualify for the intermediate rate, the service area’s median household income cannot exceed 100 percent of the state’s non-metropolitan median income.The market rate is applied to projects that don’t qualify for either the poverty or intermediate rates. The market rate is based on the average of the Bond Buyer index.

The rates, which apply to all loans issued from April 1–June 30, 2003, are:

poverty line: 4.5 percent (unchanged from the previous quarter);
intermediate: 4.5 percent (down 0.25 percent from the previous quarter); and
market: 4.625 percent (down 0.375 percent from the previous quarter).

RUS loans are administered through state Rural Development offices, which can provide specific information concerning RUS loan requirements and applications procedures. For the phone number of your state Rural Development office, contact the National Drinking Water Clearinghouse at (304) 293-4191. The list is also available on the RUS Web site at

EPA Fines Drinking Water Polluters in 2002

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) forced polluters to spend $3.9 billion on new controls and cleanups last year—11 percent less than in 2001, but still the second highest amount in its history, according to agency officials.
EPA said it is now measuring:
• gallons of contaminated groundwater to be treated (2.8 billion gallons),
• acres of wetlands that will be restored (40,000), and
• the number of people served by drinking water systems that will be brought into compliance (3.15 million) as a result of enforcement activity in fiscal 2002.

These measures provide a more thorough and accurate profile of the environmental protection results achieved through EPA’s program to enforce the nation’s environmental laws, EPA said. “The results show millions of pounds of harmful pollutants will be reduced, cleaned up, or treated; thousands of acres of wetlands will be restored; creating cleaner air, water, and soil for the American people,” said the agency. The Associated Press (AP) reports that $4.4 billion spent on new controls and cleanups in 2001 was the highest ever.
In fiscal year 2002, EPA conducted 17,668 inspections—a one percent increase over the previous year but still below the 20,417 inspections in the last year of the Clinton presidency.

EPA legal actions resulting in civil penalties dropped by almost half to $55.5 million. Criminal penalties dropped by a third to $62.2 million. However, penalties from EPA administrative actions rose eight percent to $25.7 million. The EPA reported that Superfund cleanups from companies responsible for polluting sites fell by nearly two-thirds, to $627 million, compared with $1.7 billion the previous year.

According to the AP, critics contend that these numbers show that the Bush administration is less vigilant in pursuing environmental wrongdoers than former President Clinton’s administration. “The numbers show an extremely disturbing trend towards weaker enforcement over the last two years in almost every category of measurement,” said John Dingell, D-Michigan, in a letter to EPA Administrator Christie Whitman.

Whitman said that while enforcement numbers are important, they should not be the sole criteria for judging the agency’s success.
“The way you measure whether or not we’re doing our job is: Is the air cleaner, water purer, land better protected?” said Whitman.
“We need to keep up with enforcement. We need to come down hard on people,” she continued. AP reported that President Bush asked Congress to increase spending on EPA enforcement by $21 million above the $482 million he sought this year, including hiring 100 additional inspectors.

Safe Level of Perchlorate Sought

In spite of the U.S. Senate bill introduced by Senator Barbara Boxer, D-California, demanding a standard for perchlorate by 2004, a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) official said there would not be an enforceable standard before 2007.

“We do not believe we can make that deadline [2004] ,” says Mark Merchant, spokesperson for EPA, Region 9. “We are not dragging our feet. We are doing everything we can as quickly as possible.”

The agency had been planning to issue guidelines for the contaminant in 2006. Perchlorate, a chemical used in the manufacture of rockets, missiles, and fireworks, among other products, has become a high-profile drinking water contaminant in various parts of the country. EPA researchers believe the chemical poses health threats, particularly to newborns, children, and pregnant women.

EPA researchers are currently considering a risk assessment report issued in January 2002, which states that perchlorate is safe at one part per billion