Web Exclusive: Congress Votes for Arsenic Standards
The Senate recently voted to require the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to put new arsenic regulations into effect immediately. The House also voted to require President Bush to retain the 10 parts per billion (ppb) standard that President Clinton had proposed in January, but the Senate cited no specific version.
As reported by the Associated Press, the Senate proposal won support after a senator said he would introduce legislation requiring federal assistance to communities that have to upgrade their water systems to lower their arsenic levels. Many communities in the West have higher amounts of arsenic in their water. Westerners complained that conforming to lower arsenic standards was a potentially costly proposition, especially for small towns in areas where the substance occurs naturally. Some estimates are that it could cost communities and private industry $200 million annually to meet Clinton's proposed standards. The Senate provision would also require the government to mail people information about whether they have high levels of arsenic in their water. EPA Administrator Christie Whitman has not ruled out a standard that would be even lower than 10 ppb, though her office will consider public comments on 20 ppb.
According to a recent article in USA Today, Whitman says she made a strategic mistake in reconsidering a strict federal limit on arsenic levels in drinking water. "Politically, if I'd been smart, I would've never changed it. I never would've gone back. I would've let the courts decide," Whitman said in an interview. "We were going to be sued anyway by the Western states and a bunch of water companies, and I should've just left it there."