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Release Date: 05/24/2000
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The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency today took steps to significantly reduce public health risks from arsenic in the nation’s drinking water. The agency is proposing to reduce the current arsenic standard from 50 parts per billion (ppb) to 5 ppb in drinking water. The proposal would provide additional protection to at least 22.5 million Americans from cancer and other health problems.

"Our tap water is among the safest in the world, with more than 90 percent of Americans served by community water systems receiving water that meets tough federal standards. The Clinton-Gore Administration has made providing safe drinking water to all communities a priority, and since 1993, 23 million more Americans receive water that meets tough federal health standards," EPA Administrator Carol M. Browner said. "We will continue to take actions to protect public health by strengthening existing standards when necessary, as we are doing today."

The current arsenic standard of 50 ppb in drinking water was set by EPA in 1975, based on a Public Health Service standard originally set in 1942. In March 1999, the National Academy of Sciences (NAS) completed a review of updated scientific data on arsenic and recommended that EPA lower the standard as soon as possible. Although the NAS did not recommend a specific numeric level, its recommendation formed the basis for EPA’s proposal today.

All 54,000 community water systems, serving 254 million people would be subject to the new standard. However, EPA estimates that only 12 percent of community water systems, approximately 6,600, would need to take corrective actions to lower arsenic levels in drinking water to 5 ppb. Ninety-four percent of these water systems serve fewer than 10,000 people each.

In general, arsenic can contaminate drinking water through natural processes, such as erosion of rocks and minerals. Arsenic can also contaminate drinking water when used for industrial purposes. Arsenic is found at higher levels in underground sources of drinking water than in surface waters, such as lakes, reservoirs, and rivers.

Water systems in western states and parts of the Midwest and New England that depend on underground sources of drinking water will be most affected by this proposal.

EPA estimates that reducing the standard of arsenic in drinking water to 5 ppb will provide additional protection to at least 22.5 million Americans from cancer and other health problems, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as developmental and neurological effects.

For those systems that need to take corrective action to comply with the proposed standard, EPA estimates annual household costs to average $28 for Americans served by large systems and $85 for those served by systems serving fewer than 10,000 people. Since 1996, EPA’s drinking water state revolving fund program has made available $3.6 billion to communities to improve their drinking water system’s infrastructure. EPA has funded over 1000 loans for projects around the country.

EPA will take public comment for 90 days on the proposal. Additional information including fact sheets and the Federal Register notice are available at, under “What’s New” or from EPA’s drinking water hotline at 800-426-4791.

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