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

News and Notes

Bush Signs Bill to Lower Arsenic Limit

On November 26, 2001, President Bush signed a $112.7 billion bill that officially lowered the arsenic level allowed in the nation’s drinking water from 50 parts per billion (ppb) to 10 ppb. U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Administrator Christie Whitman said water systems must meet the new standard by 2006.

When Whitman announced the standard was going to be lowered, she said the Bush Administration is committed to protecting the environment and the health of Americans, adding that the new arsenic limit will improve the safety of drinking water and better protect against the risk of cancer, heart disease, and diabetes. EPA said nearly 97 percent of the water systems that the rule affects are small systems, and the agency plans to provide $20 million over the next two years for the research and development of cost-effective technologies. The agency also said it will provide technical assistance and training to operators, which will reduce their compliance costs.

Arsenic Standard Keeps EPA in Court

The Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) filed a federal lawsuit against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in hopes that the agency will further lower the nation’s standard for the amount of arsenic allowed in drinking water. On December 14, 2001, NRDC filed its third lawsuit regarding the arsenic issue. Erik D. Olson, a senior lawyer for NRDC, said the lawsuit simply serves notice that NRDC is challenging the 10 parts per billion (ppb) limit established in 2001. The suit does not specify the limit NRDC is seeking, but Olson said, “Our position has been, since 2000, and probably before that, that it ought to be 3 ppb.”

He said the newest National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report submitted to EPA, “strongly reinforces the need for a strict arsenic standard” because EPA underestimated the cancer risks of arsenic in drinking water. The report said the cancer risks are high even for low levels of arsenic in tap water.

President Bush signed a law changing the 50-ppb standard for arsenic in drinking water that had been in place since 1942. The Clinton Administration recommended the change to a 10-ppb national standard for drinking water. But when the Bush Administration took office, it delayed the law for close to a year before it eventually backtracked and adopted the change. EPA Administrator Christie Whitman said water systems would be required to meet the new standard by 2006.

Olson said the first NRDC suit was filed when the Bush Administration didn’t follow through with the Clinton recommendation. Another legal challenge was filed when some industry groups sued to prevent a lower arsenic limit. The latest lawsuit is to make sure there are no settlement talks with the industry groups that result in a limit higher than 10 ppb, as well as to get the government looking at a lower standard. Olson said the court will likely consolidate all of the various lawsuits on either side of the issue into one question. He said he expects the process will be lengthy and a quick decision is unlikely.

Public Interest Group Intervenes in New Arsenic Standard

The Competitive Enterprise Institute (CEI) filed a motion to intervene in a lawsuit brought against the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) by the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC). The NRDC is trying to force EPA to lower the federal standard for arsenic in drinking water even farther, a move CEI believes will do more harm than good, especially in rural communities.

Late last year, the Bush Administration decided to adopt the Clinton-era standard, which changed the amount of arsenic allowed in drinking water from 50 parts per billion (ppb) to 10 ppb. The NRDC’s lawsuit calls for a 3 ppb standard. “Science has failed to find any adverse impacts of arsenic in U.S. drinking water at the 50 ppb level, a standard that has been in place more than 50 years,” says Angela Logomasini, CEI’s director of risk and environmental policy.

CEI’s motion is being filed on behalf of small water suppliers in Desert Sands, New Mexico; Oberlin, Kansas; Lusby, Maryland; and Camano Island, Washington. “These water utilities operate within their own communities and do not cross state lines. As a series of recent Supreme Court decisions make clear, Congress cannot regulate such local activities under the Constitution. That is the issue we intend to raise in this case,” says Sam Kazman, CEI’s general counsel. The motion to intervene has been filed in the U.S. Court of Appeals in the Washington D.C. circuit. The test of the motion is available at, 02285.cfm.

Nations to Rebuild Afghanistan Water Supplies

The European Union (EU) and Saudi Arabia have joined the U.S. and Japan in leading a multibillion-dollar campaign to repair the damage to Afghanistan—including repairs to water systems—from two decades of conflict. After a one-day meeting in Washington, a U.S. official said the four compose a steering group designed to muster support for reconstruction in Afghanistan, Reuters News Service reported.

U.S. Under Secretary of State Alan Larson said one of the top priorities will be quick-hitting projects in Afghanistan that can help inspire hope and help the Afghan people understand that the international community is ready and able to help them build better lives for themselves and their children, Reuters reported. The U.S. and Japan called the meeting in Washington after Taliban rule in Afghanistan collapsed. As examples of projects likely to bring rapid results, U.S. officials cited fixing the water supply and electricity, providing seed for farmers hit by drought, repatriating Afghan refugees from Iran and Pakistan, reconstructing schools, hiring women teachers and repairing roads, the news service said.

Authorities said it was too early to assess the extent of the need, but one analyst said it would costs billions of dollars, Reuters reported.

Congress Approves Water Security Bill

Before adjourning for the year, Congress approved a $20 billion package that includes millions in federal funds to conduct vulnerability assessments under an emergency-spending bill that Congress approved on December 20, 2001.

The congressional package is a compromise between the Senate and House of Representatives and was attached to the Defense Department’s annual appropriations bill (HR 3338). The $20 billion emergency supplemental spending provisions allocate $175.6 million to U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), $90.3 million of which is targeted for counterterrorism initiatives, such as water system vulnerability assessments.

The $20 billion package is the last component of the $40 billion supplemental bill that Congress passed on September 14th. The law required that the final portion of the supplement be subject to the normal appropriations process and subsequent congressional action. It includes $3.5 billion for the Pentagon’s anti-terrorism efforts, $8.3 billion for homeland security programs, and $8.5 billion for recovery efforts in New York, Virginia, and Pennsylvania, reports Knight Ridder News Service.
Al Warburton, director of legislative services for the American Water Works Association, said that money will be doled out as grants to help fund security vulnerability assessments for water systems across the country. The Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies (AMWA) said the EPA still must determine policies or procedures for spending the funds or assessing water systems’ vulnerabilities.

AMWA said the funds are only $14 million short of the amount it requested from Congress in October. According to AMWA’s estimate, $94 million can pay for assessments of the nation’s 750 largest drinking water systems. Knight Ridder said the biggest homeland-security item in the overall package was a $2.6 billion increase for bioterrorism programs, which currently cost $3.3 billion a year.

In addition, more than $1 billion will be distributed to state and local health departments, which would be on the front lines of a chemical or biological attack. They will get help for training staff and adopting improved computer communications so health officials can better share information, the news service said. Another $1 billion will go to stockpile drugs and vaccines to counter specific biological weapons threats, such as smallpox. The homeland-defense spending was included in a $317.5 billion measure to finance the U.S. military for fiscal year 2002, which began October 1, 2001.