Press Release

NRDC Sues to Force White House to Release New EPA Standard for Arsenic Levels in Tap Water

Erik Olson, Adrianna Quintero or Elliott Negin at 202-289-6868

WASHINGTON, D.C. (May 10, 2000) - According to a suit filed today, the White House Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has been illegally obstructing a proposed Environmental Protection Agency standard for arsenic in tap water for three months. In papers filed today, NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) asked for an immediate injunction to force the White House to release the proposed standard, which was required by law to be issued by January 1, 2000.

"It’s outrageous that faceless, unaccountable White House bureaucrats are illegally blocking EPA from protecting the public from arsenic in their tap water," said Erik Olson, an NRDC senior attorney. Olson pointed out that EPA’s standard was set in 1942, before scientists knew arsenic causes cancer. Since 1974, he said, the agency has missed three congressional deadlines requiring the agency to revise the "outdated, unsafe" standard.

A 1999 report by the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) said arsenic in drinking water:

  • causes bladder, lung and skin cancer, and may cause kidney and liver cancer;
  • harms the central and peripheral nervous systems, heart and blood vessels, and causes serious skin problems, including pre-cancerous lesions and pigmentation changes; and
  • may cause birth defects and reproductive problems.

NAS concluded that EPA’s 1942 standard for arsenic in tap water "does not achieve EPA’s goal for public-health protection and, therefore requires downward revision as promptly as possible."

"The health of millions of Americans is being put at risk every day that EPA fails to act," said NRDC Project Attorney Adrianna Quintero. According to a February 2000 NRDC study based on EPA data from 25 states, a conservative analysis indicates that more than 34 million Americans in at least 6,900 communities are drinking tap water supplied by systems containing arsenic at levels that pose unacceptable cancer risks. NRDC’s best estimate -- based on what it believes to be the most reasonable analytical techniques -- found that as many as 56 million Americans in more than 8,000 communities have been drinking water with arsenic at unsafe levels.

Note: In response to NRDC's lawsuit, the Environmental Protection Agency announced on May 11, 2000, that it would propose stricter standards for arsenic in drinking water in the next few weeks.

NRDC is a national, non-profit organization of scientists, lawyers and environmental specialists dedicated to protecting public health and the environment. Founded in 1970, NRDC has more than 400,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

For additional information on arsenic in drinking water, see the NRDC report Arsenic and Old Laws, or the frequently asked questions about its findings.

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