FALLON, Nev. - Rep. Jim Gibbons has become the first member of Nevada's congressional delegation to oppose the Environmental Protection Agency's proposed tougher arsenic standards for drinking water.
In a letter sent to EPA Administrator Carol Browner, the Nevada Republican charges that the agency lacks the health data to support a lower standard and is ignoring the high cost for arsenic treatment.
His opposition comes as the city of Fallon prepares to comply with an EPA order to begin removing arsenic found in its water supply at concentrations double the current federal standard.
The EPA has proposed a tenfold reduction in the federal arsenic standard - from 50 parts per billion to 5 ppb - under the Safe Drinking Water Act.
But Gibbons said the cost of complying with the tougher standard would be too high for many communities. He cited as an example residents of a Utah mobile home park who would face a $230 increase in their water rates under the proposal.
''We find that type of cost increase totally unacceptable,'' Gibbons wrote. ''EPA must take cost into consideration when promulgating rules as directed by the Safe Drinking Water Act.''
But EPA officials say it's a small price to pay because long-term consumption of high amounts of arsenic is associated with lung, skin, bladder and other kinds of cancer.
Gibbons also claims the EPA has not conducted enough studies to support the lower standard.
Under an EPA order, Fallon has until Sept. 15, 2003 to reduce the arsenic level or face penalties up to $27,500 a day.
The city, located 60 miles east of Reno, plans to build treatment facilities for the arsenic but may try to negotiate a different time frame with EPA.
Fallon's water contains naturally occurring arsenic in concentrations of 100 ppb, double the curent federal maximum of 50 ppb.
Steve King, assistant Fallon city attorney, said many communities are likely to be out of compliance with the EPA's proposed new 5 ppb standard.
''Suddenly, it's not just Fallon. It's going to affect other places,'' he told the Lahontan Valley News and Fallon Eagle Standard newspaper.