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EPA retooling drinking water regulations

WASHINGTON — The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) is tightening drinking water standards to impose stricter limits on four contaminants that can cause cancer.

In a speech Monday, EPA administrator Lisa Jackson said the agency is developing stricter regulations for four chemical compounds: tetrachloroethylene, trichloroethylene, acrylamide and epichlorohydrin. All four compounds can cause cancer.

Trichloroethylene, also known as TCE, and tetrachloroethylene are used as industrial solvents and can seep into drinking water from contaminated groundwater or surface water. The other two compounds are impurities that can be introduced into drinking water during the water treatment process.

Jackson said the EPA will issue new rules on TCE and tetrachloroethylene within the next year. Rules for the other two compounds will follow.

Jackson made the comments Monday as she announced a new strategy to better protect public health from contaminants in drinking water. With budgets strained and new threats emerging, the EPA, states and utilities need to foster innovation that can increase cost-effective measures to protect drinking water, Jackson said.

“To make our drinking water systems work harder, we have to work smarter,” she said in a speech to the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies.

Jackson called for greater collaboration among states and the federal government, as well as development of new technologies to meet the needs of rural, urban and other water-stressed communities.

The new strategy would address contaminants as a group to improve efficiency; develop new technologies to address health risks from a broad array of contaminants; use a combination of federal and state laws to protect drinking water; and form partnerships with states.

EPA’s current approach to drinking water protection is focused on detailed assessments of individual contaminants and can take many years, Jackson said, resulting only in “slow progress.”

TCE is especially problematic. The compound was used to clean nuclear missiles and was frequently dumped at missile sites.

Exposure to high concentrations of the chemical can cause nervous system problems, liver and lung damage, abnormal heartbeat, coma and death, according to the Department of Health and Human Services’ Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers is identifying and cleaning up dozens of former nuclear missile sites in nine states. The missile sites include 14 in Kansas, 10 in Nebraska, seven in Wyoming, seven in Colorado and two in Oklahoma. California, New Mexico, New York and Texas have one contaminated site each.

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