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EPA announces new strategy for protecting drinking water

Regulations target 4 cancer-causing contaminants

The EPA, states, and utilities need to foster innovation that can increase cost-effective measures to protect drinking water, Lisa Jackson said. The EPA, states, and utilities need to foster innovation that can increase cost-effective measures to protect drinking water, Lisa Jackson said.
By Matthew Daly
Associated Press / March 23, 2010

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WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency is tightening drinking water standards to impose stricter limits on four contaminants that can cause cancer.

In a speech yesterday, Lisa Jackson, EPA administrator, said the agency is developing stricter regulations for the chemical compounds tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene, acrylamide, and epichlorohydrin.

Trichloroethylene, also known as TCE, and tetrachloroethylene are used as industrial solvents and can seep into drinking water from contaminated groundwater or surface water. The other two compounds are impurities that can be introduced into drinking water during the water treatment process.

Jackson said the EPA will issue new rules on TCE and tetrachloroethylene within the next year. Rules for the other two compounds will follow.

Jackson made the comments yesterday as she announced a new strategy for better protecting public health from contaminants in drinking water. With budgets strained and new threats emerging, the EPA, states, and utilities need to foster innovation that can increase cost-effective measures to protect drinking water, Jackson said.

“To make our drinking water systems work harder, we have to work smarter,’’ she said in a speech to the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies.

Jackson called for greater collaboration among states and the federal government, as well as development of technologies to meet the needs of rural, urban, and water-stressed communities.

The new strategy would address contaminants as a group to improve efficiency; develop technologies to address health risks from a broad array of contaminants; use a combination of federal and state laws to protect drinking water; and form partnerships with states.

EPA’s current approach to drinking water protection is focused on detailed assessments of individual contaminants and can take many years, Jackson said, resulting only in “slow progress.’’

TCE is especially problematic. The compound was used to clean nuclear missiles and was frequently dumped at missile sites.

Exposure to high concentrations of the chemical can cause nervous system problems, liver and lung damage, abnormal heartbeat, coma, and death, according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The Army Corps of Engineers is identifying and cleaning up dozens of former nuclear missile sites in nine states: 14 in Kansas, 10 in Nebraska, seven in Wyoming, seven in Colorado, two in Oklahoma, and one each in California, New Mexico, New York, and Texas.

Separately yesterday, the EPA said it would release guidelines to help the federal government cut water pollution on lands it owns in the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

Federal agencies own nearly 8 percent of the land, making the US government one of the largest landowners in the watershed.

The EPA said agriculture is the source of almost half of the nitrogen and phosphorous that enters the bay, but urban and suburban runoff is the only significant source that is increasing. Construction sites, for example, can contribute the most sediment of all land uses, as much as 10 to 20 times that of agricultural lands.