EPA Rejects Arsenic Limits in Water

By Cynthia Kirk

This is the VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT.

The United States Environmental Protection Agency says it plans to withdraw a rule that would have sharply reduced the amount of arsenic permitted in drinking water. The new rule was approved at the end of the Clinton presidency. It was suspended after President Bush took office in January.

The Bush administration says the rule needs more study. The new rule would have reduced the acceptable level of arsenic in drinking water by eighty percent. It was designed to reduce the public health risk from arsenic in drinking water.

Arsenic is a substance found naturally in rocks, soil, water, air, plants and animals. It also can be released during mining operations.

Arsenic is mainly transported by water. The highest levels of arsenic are found mostly in the western American states. At unsafe levels, arsenic can cause cancer and other diseases.

Environmental groups have argued for years that arsenic limits should be reduced. They say studies show the limits are necessary for protecting millions of Americans from cancer and other health threats.

But the mining industry and some cities and states strongly opposed the rule on reducing arsenic in drinking water. They said it would cost hundreds of millions of dollars to put into effect. The mining industry took legal action in an attempt to block the rule. Environmental groups say the Bush administration is seeking to withdraw the rule because of pressure by the mining industry.

The Environmental Protection Agency set the current limit for arsenic in Nineteen-Seventy-Five. But a report by the National Academy of Sciences two years ago found that the current limit does not meet the E-P-A's goal of protecting public health. The group said the current limit should be lowered as soon as possible.

The limit approved by President Clinton also was approved by the European Union and the World Health Organization several years ago.

But E-P-A officials say Mr. Clinton's action was not supported by scientific evidence. They say arsenic levels should be reduced, but not necessarily as low as the rule required.

The E-P-A will seek independent scientific studies about the issue and the possible cost to communities. A final decision is expected after a public comment period.

This VOA Special English ENVIRONMENT REPORT was written by Cynthia Kirk.

Voice of America Special English