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MARCH 20, 2001
2:39 PM
CONTACT:  Sierra Club
David Willett, 202-675-6698

Sierra Club Blasts Decision to Withdraw Protections for Drinking Water
Arsenic in Water Causes Cancer
WASHINGTON - March 20 - The Sierra Club today expressed grave concern over the Bush Administration's decision to withdraw the recently revised standard for cancer-causing arsenic in America's drinking water. The move rejects an effort by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency earlier this year to protect more than 22 million Americans from this poison, further delaying the much-needed and long-awaited clean-up and signaling another Bush Administration bow to the mining industry.

"EPA scientists know the level of cancer-causing arsenic in our drinking water is unsafe and should be lowered," said Carl Pope, Executive Director of the Sierra Club. "This decision suggests the Bush Administration is caving to the mining industry's demands to allow continued use of dangerous mining techniques. The current guidelines for arsenic in drinking water, based on 1942 data, are dangerously outdated."

"This move is the latest in several recent environmental attacks by Bush that put industry ahead of the American public," continued Pope. "Along with delaying the arsenic rule, he reversed a campaign promise to reduce emissions of carbon dioxide and delayed the protection of the last remaining wild areas of our national forests."

The arsenic-reduction rule withdrawn today would have provided additional protection to 22.5 million Americans from cancer and other health problems, including cardiovascular disease and diabetes, as well as developmental and neurological effects. After decades of study, the Bush Administration will stall by demanding more public comments.

According to the National Academy of Sciences, long-term exposure to low concentrations of arsenic in drinking water can lead to skin, bladder, lung, and prostate cancer. Non-cancer effects of ingesting arsenic at low levels include cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and anemia, as well as reproductive and developmental, immunological, and neurological effects.

The EPA's statement that further public comment is required ignores 25 years of public comment, debate and missed statutory deadlines. In 1975, the EPA adopted the 1942 Public Health Service (PHS) arsenic standard as an "interim" measure, promising to revise it promptly based on modern science. The PHS recommended the arsenic standard be lowered to ten parts per billion in 1962. In January, 2001, after decades of regulatory development, public comment, debate, millions of dollars in EPA research, and at least three missed statutory deadlines (in the 1974, 1986, and 1996 Safe Drinking Water Acts), the EPA finally issued the new 10 parts per billion standard.

"While some arsenic occurs naturally, the mining industry's operations widely pollute our drinking water with arsenic and other toxic metals," said Ed Hopkins, Director of Sierra Club's Environmental Quality program. "Americans cannot afford to delay new protections against arsenic any longer. The Bush Administration needs to focus more on the needs of Americans and less on the demands of special interests like the mining industry."


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