EPA Launches NAS Study of Arsenic Levels In Water

May 7, 2001

BACKGROUND: Environmental extremists criticized the Bush administration for scrapping a last-minute Clinton EPA regulation reducing the allowable arsenic in drinking water from 50 parts per billion to 10 ppb. However, what the EPA has actually done is delay the rule for nine months to give the National Academy of Sciences time to determine, scientifically, what the standard should be.

TEN SECOND RESPONSE: The Clinton 10 parts per billion(ppb) rule was a political compromise with the National Resources Defense Council which wanted 5 parts per billion. Administrator Whitman should be applauded for basing decisions on sound science.

THIRTY SECOND RESPONSE: The Clinton rule mandating a 10 ppb arsenic limit in drinking water would not have taken effect until the year 2006. Recognizing that, as well as the fact that it will cost taxpayers billions of dollars to meet any new standard, it makes sense to take a few months to scientifically determine what standard is correct. A major difference between the last administration and the of President Bush is that under Mr. Bush sound science will be used to protect our environment, not the political agendas of extremist groups.

DISCUSSION: "I have said consistently," EPA administrator, Christine Todd Whitman, told reporters in announcing the new study, " that we will obtain the necessary scientific review to ensure a standard that fully protects the health of all Americans and that we will establish that in a timely manner. This is precisely what we are doing today [in launching the NAS study of arsenic]."
It should also be noted that the current maximum level of 50 ppb for arsenic in drinking water was established in 1942.

Whitman, in announcing the study, said that EPA would likely set the new standard somewhere between 3 ppb, well below the level that Clinton picked, and 20 ppb, depending on the results of the NAS study.

While those on the far left of the Democratic Party, such as Senator Barbara Boxer, have called the EPA action on arsenic "a huge step backward," the point should be made that exactly the opposite is true. Levels of arsenic will still be reduced in the same time frame as they would have under the Clinton rule, the major difference is that the new limits will be set by science, not because of politics.

by Tom and Gretchen Randall, Directors
John P. McGovern, MD Center for Environmental and Regulatory Affairs
The National Center for Public Policy Research

Contact the authors at: 773-857-5086 or TRandall@nationalcenter.org
The National Center for Public Policy Research
Chicago office
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