Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs – March 19th, 2004

In the News…
Public Health and Drinking Water News Briefs

March 19, 2004
EPA Study Raises Questions About Chlorine Alternatives

Results of a recently released U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) research study show that potential chlorine substitutes for water treatment may present new challenges to the quality of public drinking water systems. The research finds that alternative water disinfectants, such as chloramines and ozone, created new and possibly more harmful disinfection by-products (DBPs). The results have prompted new questions regarding the current drive to switch from chlorination to alternative water disinfection methods.

DBPs are formed when any chemical used for disinfecting drinking water reacts with natural organic matter or bromide/iodide in the source water. Some have been linked in research studies to cancer in laboratory animals. For this new study, EPA sampled drinking water across the U.S. disinfected with the different disinfectants and with different water quality. The study quantified levels of about 50 DBPs considered “high priority” for predicted adverse health effects. In addition, EPA detected more than 200 previously unidentified DBPs.

Current regulations, as well as EPA’s proposed Stage 2 Disinfectant/Disinfection Byproduct (D/DBP) Rule, have focused on reducing two particular classes of DBPs, trihalomethanes and haloacetic acids. EPA’s new study found that the use of alternative disinfectants lowered the levels of the regulated DBPs, but actually formed higher levels of unregulated ‘high priority’ byproducts.

An EPA summary, as well as a link to the full study The Occurrence of Disinfection By-Products (DBPs) of Health Concern In Drinking Water, can be found at:
http://www.epa.gov/athens/research/process/drinkingwater.html
Grumbles Nominated for EPA Post

President Bush has nominated Benjamin Grumbles to be the Assistant Administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Office of Water. Grumbles served as the top aide for former AA Tracey Meehan, and was named as Acting AA after Meehan resigned from EPA in December 2003. Before arriving at EPA, Grumbles had been Deputy Chief of Staff and Environmental Counsel for the House Science Committee since February 2001. He previously served as Senior Counsel for the House Water Resources and Environment Subcommittee of the Transportation and Infrastructure Committee.

Grumbles is an adjunct professor of law at the George Washington University Law School, and a member of the faculty advisory board of the Environmental Law and Policy Program at the USDA/Graduate School.
Drinking Water Quality Claims Overstated By EPA

According to a report by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) Inspector General, the EPA has consistently overstated evaluations of U.S. drinking water quality, based on incomplete state data reporting and incompatible tracking and monitoring systems.

The report, EPA Claims to Meet Drinking Water Goals Despite Persistent Data Quality Shortcomings, outlines a four-year history of inaccurate findings, countering official claims that the agency met its annual goals of ensuring 91 percent of the U.S. population was provided drinking water that meets all federal standards. While offering that the discrepancies do not indicate a “direct or immediate threat to human health,” the report concludes that existing problems in the federal version of the Safe Drinking Water Information System make data collection incomplete, including a system-wide weakness that allows large numbers of drinking water violations to go unreported.

In an addendum to the study, EPA’s acting administrator, Benjamin Grumbles reports that EPA is aware of the reporting systems failures and is working to correct the compatibility of state reporting systems and the federal database.

The Inspector General’s report is available at:
http://www.epa.gov/oigearth/reports/2004/20040305-2004-P-0008.pdf ( PDF)
California to Regulate Perchlorate

California has become the first state to issue guidelines for ammonium perchlorate, a toxic ingredient used in rocket fuel, munitions and fireworks that has contaminated drinking water supplies in 29 states.

The new guidelines were put into effect despite opposition from the Pentagon and military contractors. Reportedly, clean up costs from the use of the Cold War-era pollutant could run into the billions of dollars. California groups including farmers and water suppliers have also lobbied for delaying the new guidelines, citing the need for additional analysis before the state should act.

The California Office of Environmental Health Hazard Assessment has established a goal of six parts per billion (ppb) for perchlorate in drinking water – roughly equivalent to 6 drops of water in a typical home swimming pool. While currently unregulated, California has recommended that water agencies shut down wells that contain perchlorate at 40 ppb or higher.

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