Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Senators Offer Help with Drinking Water Mandate

Magazine article Nation's Cities Weekly

Senators Offer Help with Drinking Water Mandate

Article excerpt

The Safe Dru&g Water Act Amendments of 1995 (no bill number yet), introduced by Sens. Kempthorne (R-Ida.), Chafee (R- R.I.), Keffey (D-Neb.), Baucus (D-Mont.), Reid (D-Nev.), and others(*) late last week wowd substantially revise current law provisions which pose major problems for municipal drinking water suppliers. It is the first attempt in the Senate to address a specific unfunded federal mandate by providing new resources to state and local governments and by amending the current process for setting drinking water standards that would authorize EPA to take benefits and costs into consideration, as well as to balance competing health risks, in developing new requirements for local drinking water supply systems.

In addition, the bill would establish more realistic time frames for municipal compliance with new requirements, provide states with the flexibility to tailor monitoring requirements to contaminants of concern within the states and target assistance to small and disadvantaged communities to enhance their ability to comply with the law's requirements. The Kempthorne bill would also repeal the current requirement that EPA regulate 25 new contaminants every three years.

The measure would also significantly enhance funding authorizations for health effects research - initially targeting $10 million annually to cryptosporidium, arsernic and the effects of contaminants on sensitive individuals - which should assure that any future regulations will be based on sound science and address real public health concerns. Further, the measure would for the first time create a voluntary source water protection program and require states to develop and implement operator training and certification programs.

Drinking Water Standards

Of greatest significance to municipalities are the proposed changes in both the contaminant selection and standard setting processes.

Contaminant Selection: In selecting contaminants for future regulation, EPA would be required to publish and develop a research plan for high priority contaminants not currently regulated. The research plan would involve the acquisition of information on both the health effects of these contaminants as well as their prevalence in sources of drinking water and would serve as the basis for selecting which currently unregulated contaminants would be subject to regulation in the future. EPA would be required to make a regulatory decision on at least 5 contaminants every 5 years. Such decisions could be: not to regulate the contaminant; that there is insufficient information to make a decision; or to regulate a contaminant.

Standard Setting: In regulating new contaminants, EPA would be required to conduct a benefit/cost analysis and to determine the risk trade-offs (strategies used to reduce the risk of some contaminants may actually increase the risks of other contaminants found in drinking water) before any regulations are proposed. For any potential regulation expected to cost more than $75 million (nationwide), EPA is required to seek public comment prior to proposing a regulation.

EPA may set less stringent standards for specific contaminants if the benefit of a more stringent standard does not justify the costs to systems required to comply. This flexibility would not apply to disinfectants/disinfection by-products or to cryptosporidium.

EPA is also authorized to use other than zero-risk in setting standards for carcinogens if such a standard is unlikely to increase the cancer risk and is set with an adequate margin of safety.

EPA review of existing drinking water standards would be required every six years rather than the current 3 year interval. Existing standards may only be made less stringent if new science demonstrates comparable protection of health with an adjusted standard.

The statute also would specifically address arsenic, radon, sulphates and disinfection of underground sources of drinking water. …

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