Ensign: Arsenic-standard mandate unfunded

FALLON - U.S. Sen. John Ensign blasted the new arsenic standard for drinking water, saying it is a short-sighted, unsupported, and unfunded mandate that could bleed the budgets of small communities.

Asked if federal funding will be slated for water treatment projects in communities with arsenic levels above the new 10-parts-per-billion limit, Ensign said there better be, "or they are going to bankrupt small communities throughout the U.S."

Managers of all community drinking water systems, which include any system serving 15 or more hookups, will need to comply with the standard by Jan. 23, 2006.

Fallon, with drinking water containing more than 100 ppb arsenic, is the only community in the nation mandated to meet the new standard early.

A federally funded treatment plant to remove the arsenic is set to go online by April 15.

About 140 community water systems in Nevada are above the new standard, which replaces the previous 50 ppb limit set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.

Most of those systems lie in rural areas, which have little money to remove the toxic heavy metal from their water.

Arsenic has been linked to skin, bladder and other cancers in humans, but Ensign said there is no science showing a reduction in arsenic levels from 50 to 10 ppb will improve public safety.

Ensign characterized the limit as a measure pushed by individuals on the East Coast, where there are few arsenic problems.

"I don't believe in unfunded mandates like this," the senator said.

So far, only Fernley, with an arsenic level hovering just under the previous 50 ppb standard, has asked for an extension of the 2006 deadline to comply.

City officials there are hoping technological improvements and increased production of arsenic treatment equipment will bring a sharp drop in the price of such systems within the next few years.

In the past couple of years, Western Congresspeople have introduced two unsuccessful bills to help rural areas fund arsenic removal.

Fallon's arsenic-removing treatment plant cost more than $16 million. That funding came when Fallon was in the national spotlight due to a childhood cancer cluster in which 16 local residents were diagnosed with leukemia.

Other western communities have not received the same empathy in later funding requests.

"I can't imagine how (other) local communities are going to be able to comply," Ensign said.

Contact Cory McConnell at cmcconnell@lahontanvalleynews.com


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