Arsenic bill's impact becoming a reality to small communities

June 12, 2001

According to an article in the Detroit News,U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Brighton, introduced a bill last week intended to make it easier for Michigan communities to obtain federal aid to clean up arsenic in the state's drinking water.

   But the bill would essentially ask that the government do something it is already doing according to state clean-water officials. Communities with high arsenic levels already can apply for federal dollars, based on a review of federal and state rules governing money for arsenic remediation conducted by The Detroit News.

   Rogers conceded last week that the bill didn't do what he initially asserted it would do, but he defended it as a means of helping the federal government put a high priority on arsenic removal when it gives out money to states.

   Since 1997, Michigan has received $125 million in federal money for its revolving loan fund under the Safe Water Drinking Act, according to records from the federal Environmental Protection Agency and the state Department of Environmental Quality. Such funds, which are given out by the state environmental agency, may be used for new treatment plants, new pipelines and arsenic removal, among other things. President Bush has proposed $31.9 million in the fiscal 2002 budget for the Michigan fund.

   Arsenic gets into drinking water when minerals dissolve from rocks and soil. It has been tied to a host of illnesses, ranging from nausea to cancer.

   State environmental officials believe 450 of the state's 3,000 public water systems have contaminant levels of arsenic that exceed 10 parts per billion, a tighter standard backed by the Clinton administration.

   EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman earlier this year, however, said a new standard, which could be set as low as 3 parts per billion or as high as 20 parts per billion, would be devised with the help of the National Academy of Sciences and the National Drinking Water Advisory Council. When the new standard is set, states will have five years to comply.

   In writing his proposed legislation, Rogers contended that federal rules would delay a community with a dangerously high level of arsenic -- say, 40 parts per billion -- from getting aid until the new standards kick in.

   But according to environmental authorities, until January communities that applied for federal funds administered by the state were much more likely to be funded right away if their arsenic level was more than 50 parts per billion.

   Engineers who review those applications, which are awarded points that determine need, were told in January to give higher scores on loan requests as if the arsenic standard had already been changed to 10 parts per billion.

   Sylvia Warner, Rogers's press secretary, said an intern who researched the Rogers arsenic bill was wrong about its impact.

   Rogers said his bill are based on genuine concerns about arsenic. He noted that he also has sponsored bills urging bans on the import of foreign trash and oil drilling in the Great Lakes and a requirement to have vessels clean up tanks before entering the Great Lakes.

Source: Detroit News

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