According to a recent article in the Washington Post, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is proposing to allow higher levels of contaminants such as arsenic in the drinking water used by small rural communities, in response to complaints that they cannot afford to comply with recently imposed limits.
The proposal would roll back a rule that went into effect earlier this year and make it permissible for water systems serving 10,000 or fewer residents to have three times the level of contaminants allowed under that regulation.
About 50 million people live in communities that would be affected by the proposed change. In the case of arsenic, the most recent EPA data suggest as many as 10 million Americans are drinking water that does not meet the new federal standards.
"We're taking the position both public health protection and affordability can be achieved together," says Benjamin Grumbles, assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Water. "When you're looking at small communities, oftentimes they cannot comply with the (current) standard."
But Erik Olson, a senior lawyer for the advocacy group Natural Resources Defense Council, called the move a broad attack on public health. "It could have serious impacts on people's health, not just in small-town America," Olson says.
The proposed revision was unveiled in early March in the Federal Register and is subject to public comment until May 1. Administration officials said the number of comments they receive will determine when it would take effect.
EPA's new proposal would permit drinking water to have arsenic levels of as much as 30 parts per billion in some communities.