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Saturday, April 01, 2006

Clean Drinking Water vs. Health, Technology & Economics

EPA plans to modify regulations for small drinking water systems (less than 10,000 people) to make it affordable to comply with current contaminant (arsenic, radon, lead, etc) limits. The dilemma is whether to fine small systems into bankruptcy or establish economic and technologically achievable standards for these rural systems. The Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996 requires costs to be taken into account for small rural towns in meeting federal drinking water standards. AAEA has worked directly with small rural systems in providing affordable health protection and it is a tough problem to solve. Maybe the mainstream environmental movement should donate some of its $6 billion annual budget to this problem. Or maybe Congress should approve direct grants instead of loans.

President Bill Clinton imposed a 10 parts per billion standard for arsenic at the 11th hour on his way out the door and a brouhaha erupted when President Bush suspended the standard. Congress voted to keep the new standard and the compliance deadline was January 2006. The new proposal permits drinking water to have arsenic levels of 30 parts per billion. The current law says improvements cannot cost water systems more than 2.5 percent of the median U.S. household income (about $1,000 per household) while the new EPA proposal would cost no more than $300 per household. EPA does not regulate drinking water wells that supply water to fewer than 25 people. Private well owners are own their own.

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