AWWA Proposes Regulators Are Wrong About Arsenic Proposals

Dec. 28, 2000

Citing serious scientific concerns and exorbitant consumer costs, the American Water Works Association (AWWA) urged the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to set the new standard for arsenic in drinking water at a level of 20 parts per billion (ppb). The new standard is set to come out in 2001.

AWWA's recommendation, which comes at the close of USEPA's public comment period on the new standard, would reduce allowable arsenic levels in drinking water by 60 percent.

In June, the EPA proposed a rule that would lower the existing standard for arsenic in drinking water from 50 parts per billion (ppb) down to 5 ppb and sought comment on standards of 3ppb, 10ppb and 20ppb. The 5ppb standard is anticipated to cost $1.5 billion annually and require $14 billion in capital investments, which translates into water bill increases of as much as $1,900 per customer annually.

"Everyone agrees that arsenic levels in drinking water can be and should be reduced," said AWWA Executive Director Jack Hoffbuhr. "Today, AWWA challenges EPA to do that in a way that optimizes public health protection without bankrupting small towns or their residents."

Although lethal if consumed in high doses, trace amounts of arsenic are found in apples, fish, rocks and even the human body, without posing any known risk to human health. Low levels of arsenic also can be found in some fresh water supplies around the United States.

AWWA believes a final standard below 20 ppb can not be justified. EPA will receive similar recommendations from a panel of scientists at the University of Arizona and from its own Small Community Advisory Subcommittee, an internal review body intended to provide EPA with feedback on its proposals. The Agency's Scientific Advisory Board also has expressed concern over the proposal because of unclear health benefits and high costs.

The Agency was to base its rule on a report from the National Academy of Science (NAS), however the NAS made no numerical recommendation for the new standard and suggested more research. To that end, the Agency entered into research partnerships with the AWWA Research Foundation and the Association of California Water Agencies to conduct approximately $6 million in additional arsenic research.

(Source: American Water Works Association)