Bush Administration, Ignoring National Academy Of Sciences, Sticks With Clinton Arsenic-In-Tap-Water Standard

EPA cuts off public comment period after 57,000 Americans support 3-parts-per-billion standard

WASHINGTON (October 31, 2001) - Although a recent National Academy of Sciences (NAS) report found that arsenic's health risks are much greater than the Environmental Protection Agency had previously assumed, the agency announced today it will keep the arsenic-in-tap water standard it adopted at the end of the Clinton administration. NRDC (Natural Resources Defense Council) denounced EPA for failing to keep its pledge to base its decision on "sound science."

"EPA Administrator Christine Whitman said she wanted to make sure the Clinton EPA decision was based on 'sound science,' but when the National Academy of Sciences found that the cancer risks of even low levels of arsenic in tap water are many times higher than EPA ever estimated, she didn't lower the standard," said Erik D. Olson, an NRDC senior attorney. "Her review was a charade, and her decision will threaten the health of millions of Americans."

NRDC had urged the agency to adopt a new rule of 3 parts per billion, the lowest level that EPA studies show is technically and economically feasible to achieve. That standard still presents cancer risks 10 times higher than the level EPA considers acceptable in regulating other water contaminants.

In May 2000, NRDC sued the Clinton EPA to force it to issue a new arsenic rule to replace one that was established in 1942, before scientists knew arsenic caused cancer. EPA proposed a 5-parts-per-billion standard shortly thereafter. However, industry pressure forced the Clinton administration to ultimately settle on a final standard at 10 parts per billion, which it issued in January.

A House-Senate conference committee was poised to order EPA to set the standard at 10-parts-per-billion or lower, so EPA cut off public comment before today's midnight deadline and issued its decision to avoid lowering it. The agency has received more than 57,000 comments calling for a 3-parts-per-billion standard. The House had adopted an amendment sponsored by David Bonior (D-Mich.) prohibiting EPA from adopting a weaker standard than the Clinton rule. Meanwhile, the Senate had adopted an amendment sponsored by Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.) ordering EPA to issue a new standard especially protecting the health of women and children.

The Natural Resources Defense Council 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 500,000 members nationwide, served from offices in New York, Washington, Los Angeles and San Francisco.

Related NRDC Pages

Arsenic and Old Laws

Arsenic in Drinking Water FAQ