USEPA chief briefs Senate on dangerous contaminants

Perchlorate, chromium-6 and volatile organic compounds (VOCs) in drinking water were all discussed by the US Environmental Protection Agency’s administrator, Lisa P Jackson, in testimony before the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works on 2 February 2011.

Perchlorate is both a naturally occurring and man-made chemical, and is used to manufacture fireworks, explosives, flares and rocket propellant. Reverse-osmosis (RO) technology has been certified by NSF International to remove perchlorate from levels as high as 130 µg/L to 4 µg/L or less in drinking water.

On perchlorate, Jackson told the committee: “The next step is to update our laws in a way that is sensible and practical for protecting the health of the American people. We must evaluate the feasibility and affordability of treatment technologies, and the costs and benefits of potential standards. And, of course, we must always make sure our approach is based on up-to- date, sound science.”

Science was also to be the EPA’s guide, said Jackson, on hexavalent chromium, made infamous by Erin Brockovich and recently found at elevated levels in more than 30 US public water systems.

“We are working to finalize the human health assessment for this chemical,” said the EPA chief. “After an independent and external scientific peer review this spring, we expect to finalize the assessment by the end of the year. Based on the current draft assessment, it is likely that we will tighten our drinking water standards for this contaminant. However, let me be clear, we will wait for our human health assessment on chromium-6 to be finalized and have gone through peer review before we consider updating our regulation of this contaminant.”

Chromium-6 can be removed by various combinations of filtration, ion-exchange, nanofiltration, RO and adsorption.

Jackson addressed the problem of VOCs in her brief review of the agency’s new Drinking Water Strategy of which a key component is to address contaminants as groups rather than individually, as the agency has traditionally done. This new approach would speed up action on new and emerging threats to drinking water, she said.

“I am pleased to announce that EPA has selected the first group and will be working towards developing an update to the Safe Drinking Water Act to address up to 16 Volatile Organic Compounds (VOCs), which are chemicals such as industrial solvents, that may cause cancer,” Jackson announced.