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EPA Puts Politics Ahead of Sound Environmental Science

For Immediate Release. November 2, 2001Tougher arsenic standards for drinking water issued in the last days of former President Clinton’s Presidency, will soon be accepted by the Bush administration.  This decision will reduce the maximum level of arsenic allowed in drinking water from 50 parts per billion (ppb) to 10 ppb by 2006.

“Tragically, the Bush administration has put politics ahead of sound science to improve its environmental image, as a result of controversies caused by their environmental policies earlier this year,” said Dr. Rutkowski, the president of the American Voice Institute of Public Policy.

The data used for the basis of the new standard was derived from studies of populations in Taiwan, Chile and Argentine which are not representative of the entire United States (U.S.) population.  Factors like dietary habits, nutritional deficiencies and poorer economic conditions differentiate the U.S. from most foreign populations, including those analyzed in the study.  In particular, cancer risks found in the foreign populations associated with different exposure concentrations of arsenic, when transferred to the U.S. population, are likely to bias the data and overestimate the cancer risk. The risk at low doses is likely to be overstated by linear extrapolation used by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.  As the potential standard is lowered the degree of potential over estimation increases.

From an economic viewpoint, a 1997 study indicated that to reduce arsenic levels to 10 ppb could cost $1 billion annually.  The study commissioned by the American Water Works Association (AWWA) demonstrated that up to 2,200 of the 56,000 U.S. water supply systems would be affected.  Furthermore, depending on whether the household is served by a large or small system per household costs, the EPA estimated that additional fees could range from $22 to $369 annually.  However, under the proposed new arsenic standard, the cost of water for residents in one mobile home park would be $230 per month according to estimates by the Utah Department of Environmental Quality.  In one  California community, 8,100 households and businesses are supplied by 12 wells. They also purchase additional water from Sacramento County for about 600 connections.  The new standards puts eight of these wells above the new limit.  As a result installing arsenic treatment systems could cost between $500,000 to $1 million per well for a total of $4 million to $ 8 million.

Since September 11, 2001, cities and counties across the nation are already struggling to pay for unexpected and unbudgeted expenses like extra airport patrols, security cameras and X-ray machines.  One option being considered to meet these costs is tax hikes.  To compound the economic struggle, the unemployment rate has seen the biggest one-month increase in more than 21 years escalating in October to 5.4 percent with 400,000 jobs being terminated.  In addition, consumer spending has declined by the largest amount in more than 14 years as a result of the terrorist attacks and subsequent layoffs.

As the economy continues to decline, new worries about anthrax in the mail, plunging consumer confidence, rising unemployment, the possibility of future terrorist attacks, and a war that may last a minimum of two years, make it the wrong time to change the current standard.  From the standpoint of cost-benefit analysis, the new standard does not make sense and would be costly for the public affecting many low-income families and individuals in a time of economic uncertainty.  In a study by the American Enterprise Institute-Brookings Institution Joint Center for Regulatory Studies, an extensive cost-benefit analysis was employed.  It was determined that the costs are not justified by the economic benefit.  “The direct effect of the rule will be to save ten lives annually in the future,” indicate the study’s authors, Jason Burnett and Robert Hahn.  However, “after taking into account the indirect impacts of the cost of the rule on items like health care expenditures, we find that the rule is likely to result in a net loss of about ten lives annually.” 

“Contrary to what EPA has indicated, to justify the lower standard of 10 ppb, it has not credibly demonstrated that the 50 ppb standard is a risk to the U.S. population because the proposed rule is inaccurate, inconsistent and incomplete,” said Dr. Joel Rutkowski.  “It is still open to scientific debate that the anticipated health benefits, contrary to what the EPA might indicate, might be small at best.”

For Interviews Contact:

Joel P. Rutkowski, P.h.D.
President, The American Voice Institute Of Public Policy

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