Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Is It Safe to Drink?

The government may not be doing enough  to regulate contaminants in tap water.-

      More than 6,000 chemicals  pollute U.S. drinking water, yet  the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has added only  one new pollutant to its regu-latory roster in the past 15  years. Environmental groups  have long raised questions  about this track record, and  the U.S. Government Accountability Office recently joined  the chorus, releasing a report  that charges the agency with  taking actions that have “impeded . . .  progress in helping assure the public of safe drinking water.”
      Among other things, the  GAO report says, the EPA relies  on flawed data. To determine  the level of a particular pollutant in drinking water—which the EPA does before making a  regulatory ruling on it—the  agency relies on analytic test-ing methods so insensitive  that they cannot identify the  contaminants at levels expected to cause health effects. In  addition, since 1996 the EPA  has been required to make  regulatory decisions about five  new pollutants each year, ruling on those that might pose  the biggest threats to public health. The GAO report asserts  that the agency has been ruling only on the “low-hanging fruit —contaminants for  which regulatory decisions are  easy rather than those that  might be the most dangerous.  “They’re not actually doing  anything to protect public  health,” says Mae Wu, an attorney at the Natural Resources  Defense Council.
     For its part, the EPA has  pledged to review the nation’s  drinking-water standards and  to add at least 16 new contaminants to the list of those it  regulates. This past February  the agency reversed a long-standing decision to not regulate the rocket-fuel ingredient  perchlorate, making the chemical the first new drinking-water contaminant to be regulated since 1996. In its response  to the GAO, the EPA stated that  “no action” was necessary to  better prioritize the contami-nants on which the agency will  rule in the future, nor did it ac-knowledge the need for improvements in data collection.  The agency did, however,  agree to consider improving  its methods for alerting the  public when there are drinking-water advisories.  



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