What the Compromise of the Safe Drinking Water Act May Mean for Cities

By Kocheisen, Carol | Nation's Cities Weekly, May 16, 1994 | Go to article overview

What the Compromise of the Safe Drinking Water Act May Mean for Cities


Kocheisen, Carol, Nation's Cities Weekly


News Analysis:

Standard Setting

When proposing a Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) EPA would be required to publish and seek public comment on an analysis of the health risk reduction benefits resulting from treatment of drinking water; the costs of compliance including monitoring, treatment and other costs, and, any potential increased health risk resulting from compliance.

In addition, EPA is authorized by the Administrator to establish a less stringent MCL if such an alternative will result in substantial cost savings and, for carcinogens, not result in a significant increase in lifetime cancer risks from the contaminant or, for non-carcinogens, ensure reasonable certainty of no harm.

For non-carcinogens, EPA may use the alternative standard authority only after the National Academy of Sciences has completed a study and made recommendations about scientific information, methods and practices necessary to support alternative MCLs. One million dollars from fiscal 1995 appropriations for the drinking water state revolving loan fund (DWSRF) is to be reserved for the NAS for this purpose.

EPA would be required to conduct an on-going research program to identify sensitive subpopulations (infants, children, pregnant women, the elderly) that may be at greater risk from contaminants in drinking water than the general public.

Impact on Municipalities In the short term, these changes are unlikely to result in cost savings to cities and towns. In the long term, however, setting standards based on the new criteria has the pontential to save billions of dollars in the disinfectants/disinfection by-products rule alone.

Contaminant Selection Process

Contaminants to be regulated will be selected from the unregulated contaminants monitoring base, thus assuring that regulated contaminants actually occur in drinking water supplies. The compromise agreement reverses the burden of proof that would be used by EPA in selecting contaminants for regulation. The Baucus bill required the EPA Administrator to demonstrate why not to regulate; the compromise requires her to demonstrate why to regulate. The compromise requires EPA to consider "appropriate, peer-reviewed, scientific information and an assessment of health risks, conducted in accordance with sound scientific practices (considering applicable guidance from the NAS) in making a determination on whether to regulate a contaminant."

Impact on Municipalities The compromise proposal would significantly reduce the number of contaminants that EPA would be required to regulate and would insure that standards would be set for contaminants that actually occur in drinking water. Under current law, Congress dictated a specified list of 83 chemicals that EPA was required to regulate. Thereafter, EPA was required to regulate 25 new contaminants every 3 years regardless of whether they were ever found in finished drinking water. Under the proposed revisions, EPA would be selecting contaminants for regulation based on data collected by municipal water systems thus insuring that contaminants selected for regulation actually occur in drinking water.

Furthermore, the revised proposal requires EPA to look at 15 contaminants and make a determination as to whether any, all, or none of them require regulation. Thereafter, EPA must consider 7 contaminants for regulation every 5 years. Municipalities currently monitor for unregulated contaminants but the information typically remains unsorted, unread and unused. Under the new law, unregulated contaminant monitoring will at least serve a purpose.

Monitoring

Primacy States (all but Wyoming) may develop alternative monitoring requirements for non-microbial contaminants if the alternative monitoring requirements are based on: occurrence date; and monitoring is done at least as often as national requirements for any contaminant that has been detected at quantifiable levels in the past 5 years. …

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