Court Upholds Tougher Rule on Arsenic Limits in Water


WASHINGTON, June 20, 2003 A federal appeals court today upheld the Environmental Protection Agency's stricter requirements for acceptable levels of arsenic in drinking water.

The agency standard of 10 parts per billion, the equivalent of one teaspoon per 1.3 million gallons of water, substantially reduced the previously acceptable level of 50 parts per billion.

The standard, scheduled to go into effect in 2006, was challenged in a lawsuit by the State of Nebraska and the City of Alliance, Neb., which argued that regulating drinking water was a state responsibility and that the agency had exceeded its authority.

A three-judge panel of the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit unanimously rejected that view. Judge A. Raymond Randolph, writing for the panel, said the plaintiffs failed to show that the requirements ran afoul of the Constitution.

The arsenic standard was defended by the Justice Department and the Natural Resources Defense Council, a conservation group, which called the panel's decision "a big victory for public health."

The level of 10 parts per billion was proposed by the Clinton administration in January 2001, but blocked by the Bush administration later that year.

Some Democrats said the president had been insensitive to public health. Mr. Bush reversed course in October 2001, after determining that it met cost-benefit tests, and adopted the standard.

The National Rural Water Association, which represents more than 20,000 small communities, estimated that the standard could cost households $100 to $500 a year. But the E.P.A. said the cost would be $25 to about $325 per household each year.

Some environmentalists, citing studies released since Bill Clinton left the White House, say the standard of 10 parts per billion is still too high. A 2001 report by the National Academy of Sciences said arsenic, even tiny amounts, could lead to an increased risk of lung and bladder cancer.


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