Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – April 30th, 2004

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

April 30, 2004

White House Commitments to Clean Beaches

The Bush Administration has announced its “Clean Beaches” strategic initiative, an effort to improve the quality of the nation’s beaches and ensure compliance with the Beaches, Environmental Assessment and Coastal Health (BEACH) Act of 2000. “Clean Beaches” will include grant funding for beach monitoring and notification programs, technical guidance and scientific studies.

The BEACH Act of 2000 mandated that U.S. coastal states, including those bordering the Great Lakes, adopt up-to-date pathogen criteria to prevent beachgoers from harmful bacteria. To date, only 11 out of the 35 affected states and territories have complied with this provision. By June 30, EPA will propose revised Federal standards for the states and territories that have not yet done so.

Under the Clean Water Act, EPA issues pathogen criteria, which serve as state guidelines for adopting standards. Although EPA issued criteria for e-coli and enterococci in 1986, many states still rely on outdated standards for total or fecal coliforms. EPA’s research indicates that there is little correlation between coliform levels and swimming-related illness (gastroenteritis) in either marine or fresh waters. In contrast, correlations for e-coli (in fresh waters) and enterococci (in marine waters) are high, showing that these bacteria are reliable indicators for the presence of harmful pathogens.

The Clean Beaches Plan and related documents are available at:
http://www.epa.gov/beaches/plan.htm

EPA Rejects Use of Bottled Water to Meet Drinking Water Standards

The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rejected a request from rural drinking water officials to permit the use of bottled water in complying with the agency’s arsenic and additional drinking water rules. Under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA), EPA has the authority to develop a list of technologies that drinking water systems can use as an alternative to traditional technologies to meet EPA standards.

The EPA has yet to release a list of acceptable alternative technologies for drinking water standards.

Some rural drinking water officials claim in the absence of an EPA list they can use bottled water for compliance in extreme situations. EPA dismissed these accounts, stating that agency rules do not permit bottled water to be used as a variance technology. In addition, point-of-use technologies are limited to devices such as filters and do not extend to bottled water, according to the EPA.

Rural water officials are now likely to lobby Congress to clarify provisions of the SDWA in time for systems to use bottled water before the circulation of the EPA’s arsenic standard, which will take effect in 2006.
New National Wetland Initiative Announced

In an Earth Day presidential address, the Bush Administration announced a new national goal to improve and protect at least three million additional acres of wetlands over the next five years. President Bush’s announcement identified the formation of a partnership of federal, state, local and private entities to achieve the new environmental goal.

Currently, thirty programs to protect and restore millions of acres of the country’s wetlands are being conducted across the country, including the “Five-Star Restoration” grant program and the National Estuary Program. Other programs include the Food Security Act’s “Swampbuster” program and the Wetlands Reserve Program under the authority of the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

In addition, the EPA is continuing its work on the national Wetlands Mitigation Action Plan and coordinating with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and state partners to implement the Clean Water Act Section 404 wetlands permit program. The Bush Administration’s 2005 budget proposes to increase EPA funding by five million dollars for grants to states that will help them address the gaps in wetlands protection.

A transcript of the President’s Wetlands Initiative announcement be found at:
http://www.whitehouse.gov/news/releases/2004/04/20040422-4.html

Read more about the EPA’s wetlands program at:
http://www.epa.gov/owow/wetlands

California Sets Stringent Public Health Goal for Arsenic Levels in Water

The California Environmental Protection Agency’s Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment (OEHHA) has published a Public Health Goal (PHG) of four parts per trillion for arsenic in drinking water. The PHG is not a regulatory standard, but is a level of arsenic in drinking water that OEHHA believes would not pose a significant human health risk.

Existing state and federal drinking water standards for arsenic have been at 50 parts per billion for years and a new federal arsenic standard of 10 parts per billion will go into effect in 2006. By 2006, states must adopt this standard, or they can develop their own more stringent standard. The California Department of Health Services (DHS) will develop a new state drinking water standard for arsenic that is based on the PHG.

Arsenic is found naturally in air, water, soil, mineral deposits, and food. While arsenic in water typically is naturally occurring, the improper disposal of waste chemicals can also contaminate water supplies with arsenic.

For more information on the California OEHHA’s Public Health Goal for Arsenic in Drinking Water visit the following website:
http://www.oehha.ca.gov/water/phg/finalasphg.html

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