NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Arsenic Rule Could Be Detrimental to your Health

September 11, 2001

The rural hamlet of San Ysidro, N.M., has spent large sums of money to reduce the amount of arsenic in its drinking water, including installing filters in every home. Despite their efforts, their drinking water just barely meets the existing arsenic standard of 50 parts per billion.

If the Bush administration implements a proposed Environmental Protection Agency rule requiring arsenic levels to be reduced to 10 parts per billion, the net result could be detrimental to health and safety in thousands of rural communities, say observers.

  • At present, the health effects of low arsenic levels are unknown -- according to a study by the National Academy of Sciences, "No human studies of sufficient power or scope have examined whether consumption of arsenic in drinking water at the current (allowable level) results in the incidence of cancer or noncancer effects."
  • A report by the AEI-Brookings Joint Center for Regulatory Studies found that the expense would vastly exceed the potential benefit.
  • Furthermore, the regulation might kill more people than it would save, because "The costs of complying with the rule reduce the amount of private resources that people have to spend on a wide range of activities, including health care, children's education and automobile safety. When people have fewer resources, they spend less to reduce risks."

As for the 10 ppb limit, civil engineer Richard Burton -- an adviser to San Ysidro -- says flatly, "There is no currently available way to get down to that standard."

There are thousands of small water systems that would simply shut down, says Burton, leaving residents to drill their own wells -- which, unlike the water they currently get, would not undergo any treatment to remove arsenic. "Everybody will get more arsenic," says Burton.

Source: Steve Chapman, "Closing the Tap on Arsenic," Dallas Morning News, September 9, 2001.


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