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Water contamination priorities to be set this week.

Amendments of the Safe Drinking Water Act, currently pending before the House Energy and Commerce Committee, will be ranked in order of priority later this week along with all other legislative initiatives the committee will consider this year. Where the amendments fall in the committee's rankings will be a major factor in determining when the legislation moves this year.

The amendments to the SDWA are part of a controversial bill, HR 2840, introduced by Rep. Henry Waxman (D-Calif.), chair of the subcommittee on Health and the Environment, in June of 1991. The bill, as marked up and reported out of the subcommittee last November, deals with lead in drinking water, paint and food with the drinking water and paint provisions having the biggest impact on cities. The bill also contains non-lead provisions amending the SDWA including a prohibition on differentiating among systems for purposes of standard setting, a prohibition on the use of "action levels" instead of traditional standards, and a provision intended to make it more difficult for states to retain primacy.

HR 2840 was introduced in large part as a reaction to EPA's drinking water regulation for lead finalized last June. The rule, which many municipalities will find difficult to implement, was viewed by some members of Congress as not stringent enough and offered municipalities too much time to achieve compliance. HR 2840, if enacted, would set a tighter limit and drastically shorten timeframes for compliance, making it even more difficult for cities to comply.

Briefly, the bill sets a level (measured in those homes where you would expect to find the highest levels of lead), of 10 parts per billion in 100 percent of samples taken. The bill provides that if twice as many samples are taken than required, 1 sample can exceed 10. If three times as many samples are taken, 2 samples can exceed 10 and so on. The rule on the other hand, requires that city water suppliers achieve 15 parts per billion in 90 percent of samples. Corrosion control and lead service line replacement are required under certain circumstances in both the bill and the regulation, but the bill triggers these actions for more city water suppliers and sets much shorter time periods for both.

One provision of both EPA's rule and HR 2840 would require municipalities to remove and replace lead service lines not owned by the city. The test for city responsibility is whether a city "controls" the line. If a city has control, defined as authority to set standards for construction, repair, or maintenance of the line, authority to replace, repair or maintain the service line, or ownership, then the burden of replacement including cost falls on the city. This provision of the rule is currently being litigated in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia. Inclusion of this provision in statute, however, would put an end to any legal opportunity to alter the rule's requirement.

The Senate bill, S 1445, containing identical drinking water requirements, is not currently scheduled for consideration. A non-water lead bill, S 391, however is under active consideration. Should S 391 pass the Senate and HR 2840 pass the House, a conference committee would have the option of incorporating the drinking water provisions into the package.

Drinking Water Regulation Update

Currently under the Safe Drinking Water Act, municipal water suppliers are required to meet standards for 58 contaminants that may be found in drinking water. Potential chemical threats are a major focus of the 1986 SDWA Amendments and make up the majority of the 83 contaminants EPA is required to regulate.

Two recent EPA regulations, the Surface Water Treatment Rule and the Total Chloroform rule, are intended to maintain and imprve water system defenses against microbial contamination. The rules may require filtration, additional or improved disinfection, and/or new comliance testing procedures depending upon the present system configuration and the qualify of the source water supply

The newly issued lead and copper regulation will require water systems to undertake extensive testing throughout their communities for lead and copper. Large systems which serve over 50,000 persons will initiate corrosion control techniques to insure that their water does not increase lead and copper levels leached from home plumbing and fixtures, the main source of lead and copper. Smaller systems will also undertake corrosion control if indicated by their testing results. All systems may have to replace any lead service lines they have if corrosion control does not reduce lead levels to EPA's standard.

This May, EPA will issue a new regulation which will set standards for an addtional 23 chemical contaminants bringing the total regulated to 81. The regulation, known as the Phase V Synthetic Organic Chemical and Inorganic Chemical Rule, will establish enforceable standards for 5 inorganic chemicals including nickel and cyanide and 18 synthetic organic chemicals including the pesticides simazine and diquat and chemicals used in manufacturing processes such as trichloroethane and dichloromethane.

Dioxin, which has received a great deal of attention as a waste product of many industries including pulp and paper processing, is also included. Since most of the 23 chemicals rarely occur in finished drinking water at levels of public health concern, EPA expects that fewer cities will need to install new treatment processes. The major costs of the rule to communities will be in monitoring their water for these contaminants.

EPA has proposed and is presently reviewing comments on a regulation which will cover radionuclides including radon, radium, and uranium which can occur in drinking water. Radon, when it occurs in drinking water, is released to the air as water is used for wahsing, drinking or bathing adding to the existing levels of radon within homes. The proposed radon standard has received considerable attention and has potentially high cost impacts particularly for communities using ground water as their source of water supply.

Other drinking water regulations which are in the works but not yet propposed by EPA cover arsenic, sulfate, and disinfectants such as chlorine and chlorine dioxide and some of the by-product chemicals of the disinfection process. The planned Ground Water Disinfection rule, which is scheduled to be proposed in June 1993, could have a major impact on water systems using wells. The rule is expected to increase disinfection requirements for such systems which could involve major construction of disinfection facilities and contact tanks.

Diane VanDe Hei is executive director of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies.
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Author:Hei, Diane VanDe
Publication:Nation's Cities Weekly
Date:May 4, 1992
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