A rule for removing arsenic in drinking water put in place by outgoing President Bill Clinton may have been sufficient, according to an Environmental Protection Agency panel, which includes Clarkson University Civil and Environmental Engineering Professor Amy K. Zander.
In a report scheduled to be released on Wednesday, August 22, the National Drinking Water Advisory Council’s Arsenic Cost Working Group states that cost studies that led to the arsenic rule implemented by Clinton shortly before he left office – which called for the removal of all arsenic in drinking water down to 10 parts per billion or 19 micrograms per liter – were generally sufficient and could be relied upon for rulemaking. Incoming President George W. Bush rescinded the arsenic rule, saying that it needed more study.
“What we found out was that the past arsenic removal cost estimates are very good,” says Zander, “that there really doesn’t need to be a whole lot more study, and that the level set by President Clinton is probably a pretty good level.”
The Arsenic Cost Working Group was one of three panels commissioned by the EPA that will explore the costs, benefits and health effects of arsenic in drinking water. Each will release their separate findings, says Zander, and the EPA will take those conclusions into consideration when making the final call on what the exact arsenic removal level will be.
Zander was chosen for the 12-member group because of her research on arsenic in drinking water and her work with small drinking water treatment plants. The panel included academics, members of public interest groups and representatives from drinking water treatment facilities. All were charged to review the system costs of the Arsenic Rule, evaluate alternative cost approaches and develop a written recommendation to the NDWAC. The findings were gathered over the span of two months.
Arsenic in drinking water has been shown to cause liver cancer, bladder cancer and skin cancer. Zander says that while arsenic levels are not much of a problem in Northern New York State drinking water, they do pose a problem in other parts of the U.S.
“The World Health Organization, Europe and Japan all have 10 parts per billion as their standard,” she says. “The U.S. right now has 50 parts per billion. We have the highest arsenic level in our drinking water of any developed country in the world. I think it’s time for the U.S. to catch up with some of the other countries.“
Zander says the panel’s report recommends:
- That the federal government find new money to help drinking water providers offset any possible cost increases stemming from the new guidelines, costs that could be passed on to customers.
- That the usage of in-home water treatment systems rather than water from a treatment facility can be OK in some cases.
“That’s something new that the U.S. has not allowed in the past,” Zander says. “They think that every drop of water that comes to a house should be perfectly clean. Here, we’re coming to a compromise and saying, ‘We think you should allow shower water that’s not perfect, as long as the drinking water is healthy.’ If the EPA accepts it, that’ll make a big difference in small communities.”
- That the EPA should look at European studies on arsenic removal.
“Europeans are already removing arsenic from drinking water, and they have some ways of doing that the U.S. hadn’t considered in the past,” says Zander. “We were saying, ‘Open your eyes to new and different technologies for water treatment.’”