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EPA Proposes New Drinking Water Rules But No New Regulations For Contaminants

Jul 16, 2003 | AP

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed new rules to safeguard drinking water from byproducts formed during chemical disinfection and from a parasite spread by human and animal waste.

EPA officials also decided against adding more contaminants to the list of about 90 that the government already regulates in drinking water. The agency concluded that for nine of 60 unregulated contaminants there was no need to create new drinking water standards. The other 51 contaminants are still being studied.

Environmentalists raised concerns Tuesday that perchlorate, a toxic part of solid rocket fuel that has contaminated water supplies in at least 22 states, wasn't among the contaminants whose studies were completed first. EPA is required by Congress to study only five unregulated contaminants every five years.

At that rate, according to water experts at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), EPA probably will not issue any new enforceable standards for perchlorate or any other of the unregulated contaminants until at least 2010.

"Which essentially would mean a generation of children and adults that would continue to be exposed to high levels of many of these contaminants," said NRDC senior attorney Erik Olson.

But the agency is trying to move quickly on perchlorate, said Ephraim King, who directs the EPA Office of Water's standards and risk management division, which oversees the contaminant studies.

"We are doing studies on perchlorate, we care tremendously, and we're moving as fast as we can," he said. "We can't start the formal rule-making process until all the data is on the table."

One of the EPA rules proposed Friday would require communities to improve their water treatment plants' ability to monitor for and protect against cryptosporidium, a waterborne parasite that killed 100 people in Milwaukee in 1993 but is most common in developing countries.

Water systems would also be required to use better filters or create buffer strips to protect watersheds. Annually, that would add up to $1.68 to the average household's yearly water bills, EPA estimates.

To guard against disinfection byproducts, which form when organic matter reacts with chlorine and other disinfectants added to reduce microbes, EPA would require water treatment systems to monitor and document where the highest concentrations are in their pipelines.

Both rules would take effect by mid-2004.

NRDC criticized the byproducts rule proposal because it would allow states to make case-by-case decisions using only EPA guidance about whether to require more action.

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