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According to an article in the Reno-Gazette Journal, Churchill County, Nev., lawmakers are seeking a fund that would provide bottled water to school children who are drinking arsenic-tainted water reported at 100 parts per billion (ppb). Officials reported that the effort most likely would not help the approximately 5,000 students already exposed to some of the highest arsenic levels in the nation.
While high concentrations of arsenic are found mostly in the Western region of the United States, parts of the Midwest and New England show levels of arsenic that exceed the newly approved U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) standard of 10 ppb.
Arsenic occurs naturally in the environment as a heavy metal in two different forms, arsenite (arsenic III) and arsenate (arsenic V). Arsenic is released into water supplies from erosion of rocks and soil. The distribution of arsenic in soil, groundwater and surface water has extensively been investigated during the past two decades.
Fallon officials deny any health concern in this matter.
Long-term exposure to arsenic is proven to result in health effects such as cancer, cardiovascular disease, diabetes and reproductive problems.
Nationally, about 3,000 (or 5.5 percent) of the nation's 54,000 community water systems and 1,100 (or 5.5 percent) of the 20,000 non-transient non-community water systems will need to take measures to lower arsenic in their drinking water. Of the affected systems, 97 percent serve fewer than 10,000 people.
County officials reported that the high arsenic levels have been a debate for more than 30 years, and believe the problem finally will be solved when a new treatment plant opens in approximately one year.
Citizens worry that even if the legislation is approved to get the funding, it would take months or years to provide the students with safe water.
Parents lobbied scores of local and state officials during the last month and collected more than 1,000 signatures on a petition requesting bottled water.
The parents last month asked the Churchill County School Board to provide alternative water for Fallon students. The panel instead voted to remind parents that students can buy bottled water at the area?s nine schools for 50 cents to $1 a bottle.
Assemblywoman Sheila Leslie, D-Reno, said several private donors volunteered to provide bottled water for Fallon students, and she hopes to find more. Leslie also has offered to sponsor a bill allocating $33,000 for a temporary filtration system for Fallon schools. School administrators said the system is impractical because it would waste about three gallons of water for every fresh gallon produced.
Leslie said bottled water for summer school and for the first four months of next year would probably cost three times more than the filtration system.
Although the amendment would not immediately help Fallon, by the time the 10 ppb standard is enforced in 2006, parents in other communities will have the same concerns as the Fallon parents.
He said federal, state and local governments don?t have the money to pay for treatment plants to reach the new standard, to be enforced in 2006.