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The Planet
Arsenic and Old Rules

Study backs stricter standards for nation's drinking water

By Jenny Coyle

Clean WaterA new study by the National Academy of Sciences shows that arsenic levels in drinking water should be at least as stringent if not more than the 10 parts per billion standard recommended by the Clinton administration in January 2001.

The NAS study, released in September, was ordered in March by the Environmental Protection Agency, which balked at enacting the Clinton rule. In the interim, the previous standard of 50 ppb - a guideline based on 1942 data - remained in effect. The European Union and the World Health Organization have adopted the 10 ppb standard.

"Even very low concentrations of arsenic in drinking water appear to be associated with a higher incidence of cancer," said Robert Goyer, chair of the NAS committee that wrote the report. "Now it is up to the federal government to determine an acceptable level to allow."

The committee found that cancer risks were even higher than those used to justify the January 2001 rule. Studies revealed, for instance, that men and women who daily consume water containing 3 ppb of arsenic have a four in 10,000 chance of developing bladder or lung cancer during their lifetime - several times higher than EPA drinking-water standards typically allow.

The Sierra Club has pushed for stricter arsenic standards, and hundreds of Planet readers sent One-Minute Activist coupons and letters to EPA Administrator Christie Whitman asking that the new standard be adopted. Other activists used the Club's Web site to send faxes directly to Whitman's office.

"These new studies should make it difficult for those who want to weaken the standards," said Ed Hopkins, director of the Sierra Club's Environmental Quality Program. "They simply don't have the scientific justification."

Earlier in the year, Whitman said she expected a final decision on the arsenic levels by February 2002. However, Congress may act before then, Hopkins said, to prevent the EPA from setting a less-protective standard.

Photo courtesy Photolink

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