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Topic 1: Address contaminants as a groups rather than one at a time to enhance drinking water protection cost-effectively.

2010 July 29

Today, we are detecting new contaminants in drinking water at a much faster rate than we are addressing them.   We have begun efforts to define approaches to address groups of contaminants that will be more efficient and keep pace with the increasing knowledge we have about chemicals in our products, our environment, and our bodies.  We are looking for ideas to develop a framework that can be used to address the contaminants as groups.  For example, a framework to define groups of contaminants could be based on similar health effects, co-occurrence in the environment or public water systems, comparable analytical methods, and/or related drinking water treatment.  Frameworks based on one or more of these examples may be appropriate for different groups of contaminants.

  • What are some potential approaches for addressing contaminants as groups?
  • If you or your organization has experience addressing groups of contaminants, what factors have you considered that worked and which factors have not worked?
  • Have you identified potential group(s) of contaminants and what challenges or questions have you encountered in identifying potential group(s)?
  • What are some of the key scientific and implementation aspects that EPA should consider as we move forward?
  • Can you provide examples of contaminant groups that may present a meaningful opportunity to protect public health and reduce risk?

Editor's Note: The opinions expressed here are those of the author. They do not reflect EPA policy, endorsement, or action, and EPA does not verify the accuracy or science of the contents of the blog.

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31 Responses leave one →
  1. Betty Plummer permalink
    August 17, 2010

    What about the fluoride coming from China that contains heavy metal contamination and that is going into some states’ water supply? Why do we put fluoride in water supply anyway? At one time around WWII it was to get rid of industrial waste. Why accept China’s industrial waste into our water? Thank you.

  2. nyscof permalink
    August 18, 2010

    It’s clear that the EPA has not followed the advice it sought from the National Research Council which reviewed hundreds of fluoride toxicology studies to show that EPA’s maximum contaminant level goal (MCLG) of fluoride is too high to be protective of health and must be lowered. At least three NRC panel members believe that level should be as close to zero as possible. It’s been four years since that report was conducted and paid for and EPA is still silent on the issue.

    Adding fluoride into the water already violates the safe drinking water act, already, as fluoride is not added to treat the water but is added to treat people for a “deficiency” that doesn’t exist in humans.

    Additionally, drinking water standards for contaminants naturally found in water supplies were first proposed to give reasonable levels of safety because removing them would probably be impossible. However, you are allowing lead and arsenic-laced fluoridation chemicals to be added to water supplies if they still fall below EPA’s out-dated “safe” guidelines, even though EPA’s MCLG for arsenic and lead is zero. What’s the sense of having a MCLG if you allow toxic substances to be ADDED to drinking water on purpose?

    Fluoride is neither a nutrient nor essential for healthy teeth. Many studies show that fluoride, even at low levels in water supplies, naturally or added, can be harmful to health. Especially harmed are babies whose infant formulas must not be made with fluoridated water according to the American Dental Association and the Centers for Disease Control

    Water supplies should be safe for everyone. Nothing should be added to water supplies not required to make the water potable.

    EPA is shirking it’s responsibly by not lowering fluoride standards right now based on the science that’s currently available and the NRC’s fluoride report, commissioned and ignored by the EPA

    Why should we believe that this exchange is really going to make any difference with the EPA. You are giving the illusion that public input is important but your history tells us otherwise.

  3. Fred Tepper permalink
    August 19, 2010

    Virus as a group should be distinguished from bacterial pathogens and cysts. Three virus are on EPA’s CCL. Virus are believed to cause about half of the waterborne diseases. Yet there are no regulatory requirements to assay water for virus in the U S, even though the EPA has developed protocols for sampling and has suggested alternative methods for assay. The Korean EPA will be requiring virus assay by the end of the year. Other countries are following suit while the U S EPA is lagging in addressing this important issue.

  4. Fred Tepper permalink
    August 19, 2010

    Virus are beleived to cause about half the waterborne diseases in the U S. Three virus are on the CCL. Yet there are no requirements to assay water for virus, relying instead on indirect (and not applicable) coliform assays. The USEPA and other countries agencies have developed protocols for virus assay. The Korean EPA will require regulatory monitoring by the end of the year, but there apparently is no action by the USEPA to follow suit.

  5. Jack Cook permalink
    August 19, 2010

    It’s as simple as following through on the landmark 2006 report on Fluoride in Drinking Water authored by the National Research Council. Even though the CDC now states that the report does not address concerns about the long term adverse health effects of fluoride on human beings, one of the main researchers of the report, Dr. Kathy Thiessen has stated quite strongly that this is not the case. In fact, there is very strong evidence to indicate that the change of MCL to 4 parts per million by the EPA was due to an error. The EPA needs to listen to the opinion of its own Union scientists, who have spoken out loudly and for many years against fluoridation and the use of fluoride in public water systems. Fluoride should not even be listed on local water reports as a contaminant, but as an intentionally introduced, non-approved legend drug that is illegally placed in public water systems without informed consent and without individual monitoring by professional medical personnel. This is one contaminant that we can address right now. Simply turn it off, and stop the intentional and deliberate poisoning of our population.

  6. Brendan Bombaci permalink
    August 20, 2010

    Remove fluoride from PWSs (public water supplies). It is a neurotoxin at any level, as poisonous as lead and mercury, but currently lacking the safeguards of the latter two. It is added, no less; it is not natural by any means. Hydrofluorosilicic Acid (one of all toxic members of the Sodium Fluoride group) is an industrial waste by-product which is 300x more toxic than any Calcium Fluoride which may naturally be found in ground water from disturbed sites. Read Christopher Bryson’s “Fluoride Deception.” Check out the Fluoride Action Network online. It is a bactericide. That is the only reason it kills the bacteria which contribute to and/or cause cavities. Remember hydrogen peroxide? Yeah. Bactericidal. Works the same way. But without introducing through the gums and sub-lingually (when brushing) a known hazardous chemical. Drink it or brush with it and allow it to enter into the bloodstream, vital organs, and central nervous system. It is likely the fluoride in rohypnol, anaesthesia, and teflon that makes those products malicious to anything biological. It is urgent that we take care of this problem, lest we see our country fall to ill health and stupor over a mistake which can be remedied in one day [given the EPA wouldn’t complain about hazmat dumpsites for fluoride chemicals; they are, after all, the waste from both the phosphate fertilizer and nuclear energy industries]. “The solution to pollution is dilution” adage doesn’t work in our water supplies.

  7. Audrey permalink
    August 20, 2010

    I am a mom of a severely chemically sensitive adult son with autism. Among many other things, he cannot tolerate fluoride in any amount, but it took me more than a dozen years to figure out that the source of his pain and migraines was literally “in the water”. Chlorinated water that is not fluoridated does not cause this pain. I don’t know if it is actually the fluoride or the other contaminants allowed in the fluoride mixture that he is reacting to. Seattle Public Utilities fluoridates the water prior to selling it to my water district where we have never had the chance to vote on it.

    My problem is that it appears that nobody takes responsibility for fluoridation. There appears to be no “authority” protecting us at all and every agency hides behind another, pointing fingers elsewhere, while state and federal laws governing drugs that are meant to protect us and our children are completely ignored when it comes to fluoridation.

    When I go to my own water district and ask for the studies that show fluoride is safe—even for babies and those with chemical sensitivities (which equals most who have autism)—they refer me to Seattle PU since there is no other water source here. When asked the same question, Seattle PU claims they don’t have to worry about safety studies because, they say, the Washington State Dept of Health does that. But the WSDOH doesn’t do any analysis whatsoever of the safety or effectivenss of fluoridation, instead referring to the CDC and EPA as the “authorities” governing fluoridation. But the CDC says on it’s website that they are not responsible for the safety of fluoride added to water (but that doesn’t stop them from promoting it as if they did).

    Meanwhile the EPA commissioned the National Research Council to review the maximum level of fluoridation considered safe for everyone and the NRC concluded that 4ppm is not completely safe (as any drug certainly should be that’s prescribed to 100% of the “patients” in a given water district and forced to swallow it, cook with it and shower in it). Now 4 years later the EPA still has done nothing to lower that level. But still, the EPA did not even ask the NRC to evaluate the safety nor effectiveness of the fluoride drug that is added to my water. Why not? Is it because only the FDA has the authority to approve drugs for the treatment of humans?

    In June our Washington State Dept of Health was formally petitioned to require water districts to only use FDA approved fluoride when medicating people via the water supply. They rejected the petition saying they don’t have the authority to require FDA approved fluoride (when WDs choose to fluoridate) and claim that the FDA handed over their authority over fluoride added to water to the EPA. But the EPA threw that hot potato directly to the industry, the NSF, who has no authority and certainly doesn’t take responsibility for the safety of the fluoride-drinking consumers.

    Our Wash Dept of Health referred to a “Memorandum of Understanding” between the FDA and the EPA regarding water fluoridation. IF that memo was a legal transfer of authority, then surely the EPA is conducting ongoing safety studies since the FDA is not? No, of course you’re not. Who cares about how it affects babies anyway? Who cares how it affects children who, because they cannot tolerate chemicals in the first place, develop autism and other neurological disorders?

    Really, I want to know WHO CARES? I know that the scientists who work for the EPA care, but does the Environmental Protection Agency care?

    Is it fair that this burden, too, be left in the laps of we parents of children with autism and neurological disorders? THIS on top of everything else that we must do to care for our damaged children? Is there no local, state or federal agency willing to take authority and responsibility for this fiasco that everyone who’s read any science at all knows will hurt chemically vulnerable children? It’s common knowledge that the epidemic of autism is affected by environmental factors yet the practice of adding a highly contaminated fluoridation drug to our water doesn’t seem worthy of the EPA’s protection.

    Just let me know which of you will take responsibility for my son when I die. Let’s see how you handle a 220 lb man wild with pain from his shower!

  8. Sally Stride permalink
    August 20, 2010

    The EPA needs to do a more thorough job researching fluoride.

  9. Paul Connett, PhD permalink
    August 20, 2010

    One of the best ways to protect America’s water is for the EPA to do its job under the Safe Drinking Water Act.. You are not doing this. On March 22, 2006 the National Research Council completed the job for which they were hired by the EPA’s Divison of Drinking Water, namely to review the EPA’s safe drinking water standard for water. The panel concluded that the current MCL and MCLG, set at 4 ppm in 1986, is not protective of health. In their 507-page report the panel recommended that the EPA perform a new health risk assessment to determine a new MCLG. The NRC did virtually all the work needed for you to do this, but AFTER 4 years you have not published anything! Why not?

    This is a disgrace. The people that pay your salaries expect more than this.

    So again you ask us how you can best protect America’s water – simple: Just do your job!

    Paul Connett, PhD,
    Director, Fluoride Action Network,

    PS You can read more about this scandal at the EPA (as well as the equally bad scandal in the Pesticide Division with respect to its defense of Dow’s use of sulfuryl fluoride on food in warehouses and processing plants) in our upcoming book by Connett, Beck and Micklem, “The Case Against Fluoride: How Hazardous Waste Ended Up in Our Drinking Water and the Bad Science and Powerful Politics that Keep it There.” To be published by Cheslea Green October, 2010.

  10. Van Caulart permalink
    August 20, 2010

    It’s time EPA lead by determining the systemic health effects of chronic fluorosilicate ingestion. I’m not referring to fluorides as a generic chemical species, but in particular to the anthropogenic derivative wastes, sodium silicofluoride and hexafluorosilicic acid that contemporarily are viewed as fully dissociated when hydrolysed.

    Westendorf 1975 reported;
    “The experiments showed that several fluoride complexes, of which the hexafluorosilicate and the cryolites are found in nature, do not fully hydrolyze under ‘quasi-physiological’
    conditions. When these compounds are ingested as part of the nutrition, one must
    expect the appearance of such partially hydrolyzed “intermediate complexes” in the body, (assuming re-absorption). These complexes are most likely to appear when resorption occurs in the acidic medium of the stomach, in which case hydrolysis only begins in the blood. If the complexes first reach lower sections of the intestines they will be more extensively dissociated
    because of the alkaline medium that prevails there. It will be possible to follow the resorption of these compounds with the help of the isotopes 18F and 31Si.”

    In his PhD thesis conclusion he stated that;
    “We could show that fluoride complexes of Al and Si are only partially hydrolyzed under ‘quasi physiological’ conditions, and that in the case of Si the ‘residual complexes’ have an inhibitory effect on AChE. The inhibitory capacity of fluoride could be increased this way by using fluorosilicates, which appear in the inanimate realm of nature and probably also in the human body. Even so called physiological fluoride concentrations could now trigger vagotonic effects.”

    Moreover, the dearth of systemic exposure health data about fluorosilicate compounds by NSF’s own Standard 60, makes these substances not safe for human consumption in drinking water.

  11. Alan Roberson permalink
    August 20, 2010

    While there are no regulatory requirements to assay for viruses, systems are required to inactivate (kill) them by the 1989 Surface Water Treatment Rule and the 2006 Groundwater Rule. Viruses are easily inactivated (killed) using chlorine disinfection.

  12. Judy Nordquist permalink
    August 20, 2010

    Fluoride is a grave concern to me. This is mass medicating without a persons consent! Since I exercise, I drink more water that someone who is not out in the sun. I have very grave concerns about the health problems–sketal flurosis, thyroid, bone cancer in young boys.

    This is from your own EPA Commission: “The EPA commissioned a new review of fluoride in 2003 that was completed in 2006. There was a 12 person international panel of scientists and their final conclusion, after reviewing all recent independant science of fluoride, was that fluoridation should cease immediately. The EPAs new rulings for fluoride from this review should have been done several years ago but they have not made a move as yet. ”

    This is a travesty that our government is dumbing down and poisining the population!

    Pleae do your duty to protect the population rather than submitting us to a known toxin!!!!!

  13. Trevor A permalink
    August 22, 2010

    remove fluoride would help, it contains mercury, arsenic, lead, chromium and other contaminants such as radionuclides!

  14. Dr Abe Beagles permalink
    August 22, 2010

    We at Cal-Neva have developed a new Electro-coagulation system that can address each group of heavy metals that appear on the perodic chart. Group one can be removed by a metallurgically designed anode that uses DC as a power source. Group II metals can also be removed once the first group is treated and suspended in the water, by a different anode and so can the semi-conductors which make up the third group of metals. The Noble Metals are the fourth group of metals that can be removed by this system but that is done with an electrolysis anode that plates these metals onto itself rather than remove them from the water by destroying the metal itself.
    This type of system also destroys all pathogens, virus and bacteria from the water as it passes through the electrodes in the system.
    This is a very scientific method of removing these contaminants because it is the metal itself that is attacked by the electric current and any salts of the metal is released into the water and can escape the system by following the water through the system and then escaping into the atmosphere as a gas.

  15. Dr Abe Beagles permalink
    August 22, 2010

    The EPA has two lists of compounds that are indicated by their name which is a Group I and Group II contaminant list. There is over three hundered compounds in these two lists that contain either a Carbon Atom or a heavy metal. In either case the EC units that are available now from Cal-Neva Water Quality Research Institute do attach the Carbon atom and it becomes intert and is not soluable in water anymore. In the instance of the heavy metals when they are dissolved in water they are not true metals but are isotopes or metals or are Collodial in nature. To remove these types of metals a system has been devised that creates an envelope of electrons that allow these disolved metals to reach out and attach the needed electrons to the Neutron and then they become a true metallic particle and can be either removed with a centrifuge which we have developed to remove particles from fluids down to as small as one micron or they can be precipitated from the water in a clairifier.

  16. Arnold Gore permalink
    August 23, 2010

    The use of fluoride in the water supply came about from a classical error in logic. Back in 1946 When fluoridees occurred naturally in some waters. those waters also had higher concentrationas of Calcium,Strontium and Magnesium in trace amoubts that led to health benfits that were erroneously ascribed to the fluoride, when it was really the other trace minerals. The science of nutrition did not recognize the role of trace minerals in nutrition until years later in the 1970’s It was too embarrassing to go back and admit a mistake was made in 1946. It is time for the EPA to follow the recommendations of the National Research Council it commissioned to study the level of fluoride. It is overdue for action by EPA.

  17. Bill Osmunson DDS, MPH permalink
    August 23, 2010

    Bravo to the EPA for opening up a public forum on contaminants in water. However, you may not hear what you want to hear. There are many contaminants which we need to work on, but the worst is fluoridation which we do to ourselves. Most of the world has rejected fluoridation. Only a few, mostly USA followers, persist.

    Under public disclosure requests the EPA responded to me July 6, 2010, “The Safe Drinking Water Act prohibits the deliberate addition of any substance to drinking water for health-related purposes other than disinfection of the water.”

    Well said and should be posted on your web site.

    Fluoride when used with the intent to prevent disease is defined by law as a drug and regulated by the FDA.

    If fluoride is naturally occuring it is regulated by the EPA and the MCLG should be 0 ppm, the same as lead and arsenic. The addition of fluoride must be regulated by the FDA.

    By forcing the MCLG to stay high at 4 ppm, contrary to the NRC 2006 report, the EPA is de facto supporting the deliberate addition of a substance to drinking water for health-related purposes which is a violation of the SDWA.

    EPA, Get fluoridation off your back and put it over with the FDA as required in both the FD&C Act and the SDWA. Clearly state your position on your web site.

    People are being harmed. As a cosmetic dentist I see and provide cosmetic dentistry to repair dental fluorosis. These costs can exceed $100,000 life time damages. Dental fluorosis is undisputed. And look at the IQ research, mental retardation research, bone fractures, enzymatic research, and more.

    Name one published article finding a significant reduction in measured decreases in dental treatment costs in fluoridated communities. There are none. One shows a slight decrease, but not enough to pay for the equipment repairs, let alone the chemicals used and children in the largest non-fluoridated community actdually had lower dental expenses. The CDC claims huge savings, but those studies are estimates based on assumptions.

    The EPA needs to listen to their scientists when speaking through their union when these good scientists condemn the addition of fluoride added to water.

    If the FDA warns on toothpaste labels not to swallow a pea size of toothpaste containing 0.25 mg of fluoride, certainly we should not be forcing everyone to ingest that much in every glass of fluoridated water.

    Infant formula made with fluroidated water contains about 250 times more fluoride than mother’s milk.

    Again. The EPA needs to openly publish on their web site a clear statement, such as:

    “The EPA regulates contaminants in water and additives to water for the disinfection of water. The Safe Drinking Water Act prohibits the deliberate addition of any substancee to drinking water for health-related purposes. Individual states add fluoride at their own risk and in violation of the Safe Drinking Water Act and do so without the authority or approval of the EPA.”

    We must protect our most vulnerable. Yes, the costs to remove fluoride must be included for naturally occuring fluoride, but the addition of a toxic substance which no longer shows benefit, if it ever did, must be stopped.

  18. Cathy Justus permalink
    August 24, 2010

    If you are indeed concerned about contaminents in water in the U.S., why are you not only allowing but defending and promoting fluoridation with hydrofluorisilic acid and sodium fluorosilicates? And even worse, allowing this toxin to be added to our water systems with the origin of China. This is a definite National Security Issue now. No knowledgable person would allow another country access to our water ways, let alone one that has the track record of sending products to us that are toxic and poisonous like China. Pay attention to your own rules and scientists and stop this poisoning of America, our water, and the soil we depend on.

  19. Debbie D. Hahn permalink
    September 2, 2010

    The first principle would read more clearly to me if “groups” was made singular or the first article “a” was removed.

  20. Debbie D. Hahn permalink
    September 2, 2010

    The first principle would read more clearly to me if “groups” was made singular or the first article “a” was removed.

    The drinking water contaminants need to be studied with the “greatest benefit” approach, I believe. Studying industrial discharge surrounding residences would help, including monitoring the amount and quantity of discharge, say, in a stream used by a company, at the input source and at points downstream. The effects of the contaminants experienced by people, animals, and plants need to be evaluated.

    I would encourage the inclusion of countries outside the United States considering the Stockholm Convention in monitoring chemicals such as arsenic, lead, and raw sewage in drinking water.

    A geographic approach may be best for addressing contaminants as groups once the targeted contaminants are identified.

    I would encourage a greater focus on computer security along with more electronic information exchange.

    I believe states, public water systems, and pesticide manufacturers should conduct monitoring to determine occurrence throughout the year every year as well as when a new chemical is released, a new company is founded, and immediately when any hint of a problem is suggested.

    People should be encouraged to drink bottled or filtered water as a first step where contamination is found.

  21. Eric Madsen permalink
    September 3, 2010

    The International Organization for Standardization (ISO) is writing a water footprint standard that will probably be referenced to quantify a water-user’s footprint, including chemicals and contaminants discharged after water use. Everyone who has concerns over this international evaluation of chemicals discharged to water should voice their opinion. To participate in the writing of ISO 14046 Water footprint – Requirements and Guidelines, please contact the US administrator of the activity:

  22. Janet Andersen permalink
    September 15, 2010

    I think it is important to continue to address contaminants as groups. It is helpful to group them by testing frequency. For example, our small water system has to test for some contaminants monthly, some annually, some every 3 years. However, in one of the every 3 year category, there’s a footnote for one contaminant which requires annual testing. That’s something that is far too easy to overlook.

    Beyond that, it makes sense to me to group contaminants by treatment approach so that if there is a need to implement a treatment, it can be done based on the levels of all of the contaminants discovered.

    As the EPA evaluates contaminants, it is important to weigh the danger against the difficulty, expense, and systematic issues of providing the treatment. Again, I’ll offer an example from our small system. We detected copper above the action level, and have been required to add orthophosphate to our water supply. Our community does not have a sewer system, and is in the immediate watershed of three lakes and on a larger scale feeds important reservoirs. We are educating everyone in the community about the dangers of phosphorus in automatic dishwashing detergents and fertilizers, yet our water system has added hundreds of pounds of orthophosphate to the watershed. It would be great to have an alternate corrosion control that would eliminate the requirement to add phosphate to our water supply- and our watershed. Alternatively, since lead and copper, in our case, are not found in the source water but leach from household plumbing and plumbing fixtures, it would be far better if we could treat this at the household level rather than adding a watershed pollutant to the system.

    I think another major challenge to be considered has to be cost. We have 90 homes on our system. Some years we have about $4000 in water tests already. Perhaps there are some subsets of contaminant tests that could be used as indicators, and the other contaminants in the group would only be tested for if the indicator contaminant reached an action level.

    Thanks for the opportunity to comment.

  23. Barbara Salvini permalink
    September 22, 2010

    The public is worried about minute amounts of medications in our water and we ignore the huge amounts of disinfectant added to our water. In 1991 when it was found that chlorine reacts with organic compounds and produces carcinogenic compounds most agencies switched to chloramines. If you perform research on medical sites and query chloramines and thyroid, you will find thousands of studies. Chloramines are the reactant use to study thyroid hormone in blood tests. In the first ten years post 1991 many of the symptoms typical of thyroid hormone deficiency have skyrocketed. Antidepressant use escalated by over 1,000%, obesity increased by 60% and diabetes by 40%. I found one short term study of healthy males that consumed elevated chloramines and exhibited thyroid symptoms; however have there been any long term studies with a broader representation of the population? Has there been national health studies comparing populations with differing disinfectant protocols?
    I would like to see more focus on removing the organic compounds such as through micro filtering and ozonation so that chlorine can be use with low consequence.

  24. Patrick Vowell permalink
    October 26, 2010

    Well, this was a good idea, to have a forum where people familiar with the water industry could toss ideas around having to do with certain topics on developing regulations. Unfortunatley the process has mostly been hijacked by the anti-flouride groups and those who just want to rant against the EPA. Nice try, Cynthia, but better luck next time.

  25. D. Kohl permalink
    October 26, 2010

    Address Contaminants as a Group
    Not all contaminants can be addressed collectively. Understanding collective perspectives strengthens intuitive knowledge and can speed up analysis. On the local scale, unthreatended by terrorist acts, grouping procedures for resolving contaminant issues is reasonable. Stress the security requirement that all solutions are U.S. developed products and services. By applying true science and engineering we not only make jobs, we create solutions intended for long-term benefit.

    Terrorism is real and well thoughtout. Administrations change and foreign attitudes towards America change. Our biggest threat right now are free lasers. Lasers can be used to contaminate our waters remotely and on a large scale. With this in mind, protective structures and practices need to be implemented along with the solutions to decontaminate. Systems must be designed to contain contamination immediately, without total disruption to the system.

    With a solid push on the science and brilliant engineering, we can turn these issues around.

  26. m. mcmillen permalink
    November 11, 2010

    While I am no expert in the area of water quality regulation (and, coming from a relatively small community where our tap water is just fine, have had no reason to be concerned about water quality as it effects me, personally), I am concerned about the possibility that the EPA might, as it suggests, group contaminants based on similar health effects. For contaminants that we have sufficient information on (including fluoride, which seems to be a hot topic in this discussion forum), there is not much of a problem with this approach. If is the myriad other ones, however, that I am concerned about.

    As I understand the SWDA and how it establishes MCLGs, the EPA already groups contaminants based on known or potential health effects as indicated by certain levels of scientific knowledge. (See International Fabricare Institute v. EPA, 972 F.2d 384 (D.C. Cir. 1992). MCLGs are then set based on what group a contaminant falls into. (Id.) It seems to me, however, that there is already a great deal of uncertainty within those groupings. For example, Group C contaminants are “possible human carcinogens based on limited evidence of carcinogenicity in animals [and] the absence of human data.” (Id.). Levels for these contaminants are set where there is thought to be no “appreciable risk of deleterious health effects.” (Id.) Inherent in both of these definitions is a great deal of uncertainty: carcinogenicity is “possible,” there is a complete absence of human data, there is thought to be no appreciable risk at whatever level is set (but who knows for sure??), etc., etc., etc..

    While the MCLGs are only non-enforceable goals that tend to set the bar for more stringent (and enforceable) MCLs, it seems unwise to base an MCLG on groupings that are already tenuous at best. By introducing a further level of uncertainty into the mix (i.e. more extensive grouping based on health effects), the EPA would potentially gain efficiency but at the price of effectiveness. What are the health effects of a suspected contaminant? Are effects seen in humans or only animals? Would groupings only be based on undeniable, scientifically-demonstrated effects? (The current scheme would suggest not, and common sense would tell us that the number of contaminants that could be identified by such is far outweighed by those that could not.) We simply don’t seem to have enough information on many contaminants to answer these questions.

    Perhaps, though, that is the goal of this new approach: to collect more information so as to make more informed decisions. If that is the case, I would suggest collecting much more information on contaminants than seems to be available, currently. But of course, once you do that, any efficiency argument (at least in the short-term) goes out the window…

    As I indicated, I am no expert in this field (just a student who finds myself thrown into the mix), so my opinion may not be worth much and my interpretation and analysis might be way off the mark. But if I can spot a catch-22 in a proposed approach (i.e. to be more efficient, you need much more information, but gathering such information is not efficient in the short-term), hopefully the EPA can, as well.

  27. Rorik Moore-Jansen permalink
    November 14, 2010

    I am not sure as to whether this grouping is already included within the guidelines set forth in the topic description, but I thought I would mention it anyway.

    I used to work for a City Sewage Treatment Plant as a chemist, so I thought about this from a little different perspective. I was wondering if it might be feasible to group contaminants based on the means and difficulty of removing them from the drinking water, either before or after passing through the city’s “system” (since water post-city use is almost always reused at some point down the road).
    I don’t know that this would necessarily be the overall means of identifying a contaminant, but it might be helpful including such a sub-grouping when looking at the overall scheme and the costs associated with the drinking water protection. Such groupings would help in determing the cost and efficiency of the protection methods.
    As a simplistic example, say there were four contaminants that needed to be removed. If you had them listed in groups based on removal method, instead of looking at them individually, one could quickly note that three of them are dealt with via one method while the other could be removed just so. One could also compare the various methods able to be used. Say there was a new contaminant introduced, and if you knew its methods of removal based on groupings, it might follow a similar removal method to one already in place or the cheapest/most efficient alternative could be utilized.

    Regardless, this has to be a better idea than harping about flourine and lasers.

  28. Jeremy W. permalink
    November 14, 2010

    Something that must be carefully considered when utilizing a group approach to contaminant identification and regulation is the potentially irreparable cost of grouping errors. According to 42 U.S.C. § 300–1(b)(9)’s “anti-backsliding” provision, any revision of a national primary drinking water regulation shall maintain, or provide for greater, protection of the health of persons. Thus, if a contaminant were mistakenly grouped with more dangerous contaminants it would be condemned to a more stringent than necessary maximum contaminant level with little opportunity for correction. By a plain reading of the SDWA, the MCL for this erroneously grouped contaminant could only be revised downward if it could be affirmatively proven that this new, more lenient level resulted in the same level of protection of human health as did the previous, stricter level. This may be hard to prove as many contaminants (such as carcinogens) are presumed to have no safe threshold level. In these cases, the default rule is that human health is linearly and indirectly proportional to contaminant level. Since a lower contaminant level equals greater human health, it would be impossible in these cases to revise an erroneously grouped contaminant’s level downward. Therefore, due to the SDWA’s anti-backsliding provision, a grouping error can result in irreparable regulatory inefficiencies.

  29. Nirav Patel permalink
    November 15, 2010

    Although addressing contaminants as a group may make regulations more cost-effective, there seems to be more than a mere possibility that looking at the group would be harmful to enforcement because it is harder to write regulations for a group than individual contaminants. Furthermore, there could be a problem with the strictness of the standards for the group because it has to take into account the effects of each particular contaminant and “smooth” it out over the group, this could lead to regulations that are too harsh for some contaminants within the group, and too lenient for other contaminants in the same group. This could lead to inefficiencies in enforcement because of increased litigation by polluting industries. To account for this discrepancy, it seems that the groups would have to be smaller in order to ensure that the contaminants are closely related, but this would take away from the efficiency argument in regulating contaminants as a group.

    If this would be the effect of addressing contaminants as a group, would it even be worth the time and resources to grouping and rewriting regulations if there will be increased costs involved? What possible ways are there to address this issue?

  30. Matt Schmidt permalink
    November 15, 2010

    I believe that a health-effects based system or a related treatment system of grouping would be the most effective and accepted.

    A health-effects based system of organization is used in other regulatory schemes and would be familiar to the courts when challenges eventually arise. Of course, this type of system would also have some lag time in grouping when there are new and/or understudied contaminants.

    A related treatment system of grouping would also be beneficial. Grouping the things that can be treated in the same way makes sense as the response to the discovery of those contaminants would be the same. On the negative side, new and different treatments are appearing all the time and the categories might be much more fluid than one would like for a federal regulatory scheme.

    These two systems would seem to have the most potential upside. However, there may be little overlap and it may have to be one or the other instead of a combination.

    Basing the groups on co-occurrence or even things such as chemical similarity would lead to a flood of lawsuits. There would be endless bickering over studies that show that certain contaminants occur slightly more with this or that other contaminant. Contaminants that co-occur may have widely different health consequences and treatment options as well.

  31. Matt Schmidt permalink
    November 15, 2010

    The framework used to define groups of contaminants should either be a health-based system or one that is based on similar treatment methods.

    A health-based system is useful for several reasons. The statutory scheme itself is largely based on preventing health problems caused by drinking water. This is also a familiar system of organization that is used by other regulatory schemes. A familiar system can be useful when eventual challenges arise in court, because there is a large amount of case-law dealing with regulating substances based on health effects. One drawback might be that with new or relatively unknown contaminants there might be a lag-time in regulation because of the lack of knowledge.

    A framework based on similar treatment methods would also be useful. As a practical matter, the purpose of the statute would be served well by identifying contaminants that could be treated in the same way. However, with the constant flux in treatment techniques and options, this type of grouping may be too fluid to be the best option for a federal regulatory scheme.

    A combination of these two would be a powerful tool, however I am not sure as to the amount of overlap that the two categories would have.

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