In the Pipeline
Appeals Court Upholds EPA Limits on Permissible Levels of Radionuclides in Drinking Water
A federal appeals court upheld a U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) rule setting limits on the permissible level of radionuclides in drinking water (Waukesha vs. EPA, D.C. Cir., No. 01-1028, February 25, 2003).
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia rejected all arguments raised by the petitioners (two trade associations and several municipal water systems), including claims that the drinking water standards set by EPA were not based upon the best available science. The court also rejected claims that EPA failed to perform required cost-benefit analyses for the drinking water standards and failed to adequately respond to comments submitted during the rulemaking process.
The rule requires that public water systems continue to treat drinking water to meet longstanding standards for radium-226, radium-228 and certain beta/photon emitters, and it establishes a standard for uranium for the first time. The standards are established to protect the public from the potential adverse health effects of radionuclides. Radionuclides emit "ionizing radiation," a known human carcinogen, as they decay. Long-term exposure to radionuclides in drinking water may cause cancer, EPA officials said.
"This ruling upholds EPA's strong commitment to public health protection, public involvement and sound science in undertaking any regulatory action," said EPA Assistant Administrator for Water G. Tracy Mehan III. "By reducing the public's exposure to radionuclides in drinking water, this administration is taking a major step toward protecting American's health."
In addition to the standards themselves, the rule sets forth monitoring, reporting and public notification requirements for radionuclides. EPA estimates that the rule will provide improved health protection for 420,000 persons through monitoring improvements for the combined radium-226/-228 standard (a carcinogen) and for an additional 620,000 people through the new standard for uranium (a kidney toxin and carcinogen) in drinking water.
The court's opinion is available at pacer.cadc.uscourts.gov/docs/common/opinions/200302/01-1028a.pdf.
EPA Announces Strategy for Biosolids Research and Programs
Responding to recommendations from the National Academy of Sciences' National Research Council, EPA announced a strategy April 7, 2003, for expanding and strengthening biosolids research and programs.
Under the strategy, EPA plans to:
- Update the science underlying the rule by conducting research in priority areas.
- Strengthen the biosolids program by incorporating results of research, both within and outside EPA.
- Continue ongoing efforts to increase partnerships and communication with the public and stakeholders.
"This announcement is EPA's effort to address the recommendations of the National Academy of Sciences as well as citizen concerns while maintaining the beneficial uses of biosolids," said Assistant Administrator for Water G. Tracy Mehan III.
A Federal Register notice seeking public comment on the strategy was published April 9; it is available for review online at www.epa.gov/ost/biosolids/. The notice also includes preliminary results of EPA's review of existing sewage sludge regulations, which is required to be done every two years under the Clean Water Act. Public comments are being accepted through July 8, 2003.
Following this public comment period, the agency will publish specific pollutants for possible regulation in early 2004.
EPA releases voluntary guidelines for septic system management
New, voluntary guidelines issued by EPA on April 14, 2003, are designed to help local governments strengthen their management of septic systems and other small, privately owned wastewater treatment systems.
"Proper septic system maintenance is a commonly overlooked responsibility," said Assistant Administrator for Water G. Tracy Mehan III. "Failing systems are a significant threat to our health and our water quality."
According to EPA, failing and improperly managed septic systems are a significant source of water pollution, potentially causing contamination of drinking water wells or restricting shellfish harvest. Septic systems serve approximately 25 percent of U.S. households, and one in every three new homes built today uses a septic system.
EPA worked with public- and private-sector stakeholders to develop the Voluntary Guidelines for Management of Onsite and Clustered (Decentralized) Wastewater Treatment Systems. The guidelines and an accompanying management handbook provide local governments with a risk-based model for evaluating local conditions and a five-tier system for developing an appropriate management program to address these conditions.
The Voluntary Guidelines document (EPA 832-B-03-001) is available for download at www.epa.gov/owm/onsite. Copies may also be requested by calling (800) 490-9198.
Bill seeks perchlorate 'right-to-know' protection for communities
Sen. Barbara Boxer (D-CA) introduced legislation April 8, 2003, designed to guarantee a community's "right to know" about the use of perchlorate by companies.
The Perchlorate Community Right-to-Know Act (S.820) would:
- Require anyone who stored or transported more than 375 pounds of perchlorate since Jan. 1, 1950, to report to EPA no later than June 1, 2005. This does not apply to facilities that store perchlorate or products containing perchlorate for retail or law enforcement purposes.
- Require anyone who discharges perchlorate into the water to report the discharge, its volume, monitoring methods and remedial actions to EPA. Under the bill, EPA would be required to publish this information annually in the Federal Register no later than June 1, 2005.
- Require EPA to annually publish a list of perchlorate storage facilities no later than June 1, 2005.
Under the bill, all fees and fines for failure to comply with the community right-to-know requirements would be deposited into a loan fund for public water suppliers and private well owners to pay for clean water when their water is shut down because of perchlorate contamination.
"Up to 10 million Californians are currently drinking perchlorate-contaminated water, and we are continually discovering more contaminated drinking water sources," Boxer said. "Despite the gravity of this situation, we currently have no way of knowing who is dumping it or where they are dumping it, and there is no accountability. That is unacceptable."
Perchlorate is an explosive salt that was widely used from the 1940s to the 1960s, and still is used in lesser amounts primarily as an oxidizer for solid rocket fuel (90 percent of its use), ammunition and fireworks. As a salt, it dissolves readily in water and thus spreads rapidly, according to a press statement from Boxer's office. Perchlorate has been found in soil, groundwater and surface water throughout the United States.
Studies have linked perchlorate to problems with prenatal development and thyroid cancer.
California State Sen. Nell Soto (D-Ontario) said, "One of the most disturbing things about perchlorate pollution is that we keep finding out about it after the fact. We need to adopt a proactive approach, and we need more tools to determine where toxics are located and what threat they pose to groundwater supplies."
Boxer introduced legislation in early March (S. 502) that would require EPA to set a national perchlorate safe drinking water standard by July 1, 2004.
In a March 20, 2003, statement, EPA said it was working to evaluate perchlorate and had asked the National Academy of Sciences to review the issue. In the statement, the agency reaffirmed that its 1999 guidance on perchlorate should remain in effect pending the outcome of NAS' review.
"EPA also is gathering data to determine whether a drinking water standard for perchlorate is appropriate," the statement noted.
To check on the status of Boxer's bills, visit the Library of Congress' legislative information Web site at thomas.loc.gov.
EPA Postpones Stormwater Permit Requirements for Oil, Gas Industry
EPA published a final rule March 10, 2003, allowing the oil and gas industry two more years before it must comply with updated stormwater permit rules.
Under a 1999 final rule, EPA expanded its National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System permitting program to require, among other things, permit coverage for construction disturbing one to five acres of land. The rule took effect March 10.
However, EPA claims that far more oil and gas sites would be affected by the expanded permitting program than it had originally anticipated, prompting the agency to give the industry a two-year exemption, until March 10, 2005, to allow for additional analysis and evaluation. Close to 30,000 sites may be affected by the program each year, according to EPA.
Six senators sent a letter to EPA Administrator Christie Whitman Feb. 20 urging her to reconsider giving the oil and gas industry more time.
"While thousands of small communities struggle to develop management plans and find the resources to support their compliance with federal stormwater rules, the oil and gas industry gets a break," Sen. Jim Jeffords (I-VT) said. "Delaying compliance for one industrial sector is not justified."
To access the Federal Register notice regarding the extension for the oil and gas industry, go to www.epa.gov/fedrgstr/EPAFR-CONTENTS/2003/March/Day-10/contents.htm.
EPA posts several booklets for small systems online
EPA recently added online versions of several resources for small drinking water systems to its Web site:
- Complying With the Revised Drinking Water Standard for Arsenic: Small Entity Compliance Guide -- One of the Simple Tools for Effective Performance Guide Series, is a 58-page booklet. It gives small systems step-by-step instruction on meeting the revised rule, from determining if the system has an arsenic problem to arsenic monitoring requirements.
- Sources of Technical and Financial Assistance for Small Drinking Water Systems features contact information as well as a description and explanation of services available for nine relevant organizations and programs, such as the National Environmental Services Center and the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund.
- System Partnership Solutions to Improve Public Health Protection features several case studies showing how small systems have partnered with other systems to improve their ability to provide safe and affordable drinking water.
These guides are available at www.epa.gov/safewater/smallsys/ssinfo.htm.
Copies of the arsenic guide can also be obtained from the Office of Water Resources Center by calling the Safe Drinking Water Hotline at (800) 426-4791. (Reference number EPA 816-R-02-008A when requesting copies.) Additional worksheets are also available; reference Document Number EPA 816-R-02-008B when requesting worksheets.
- Another publication, Using DWSRF Funds for Transmission and Distribution Infrastructure Needs, explains how the Drinking Water State Revolving Fund program can help systems, especially small systems, meet the challenges of complying with drinking water systems. To download this publication, go to
New Chesapeake Bay Goals
On March 21, 2003, representatives of states around the Chesapeake Bay agreed to steep cuts in the amount of nutrients flowing into the Bay and its rivers.
The new goals set by the Chesapeake Bay Program (CBP) partners commit Bay watershed states and the District of Columbia to reduce nutrient pollution by more than twice as much as has been accomplished since coordinated Bay restoration efforts began nearly 20 years ago.
In recent years, water quality improvements in Chesapeake Bay have been hindered by excessive amounts of nitrogen and phosphorus running into the rivers and streams that feed the Bay. High nutrient levels threaten the delicate balance of the Bay ecosystem by causing the rapid growth of unhealthy algae and prohibiting light from reaching underwater grasses critical to the health of the Bay's fish and shellfish.
The new nutrient reduction goals, or allocations, call for Bay watershed states to reduce the amount of nitrogen from the current 285 million pounds to no more than 175 million pounds per year and phosphorus from 19.1 million pounds to no more than 12.8 million pounds per year. When coordinated nutrient reduction efforts began in 1985, 338 million pounds of nitrogen and 27.1 million pounds of phosphorus entered the Bay annually.
Each state in the 64,000-square-mile Bay watershed -- Delaware, Maryland, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia and the District of Columbia -- will use the new goals to develop plans to encourage residents, farmers, local governments, wastewater treatment plant operators and community watershed organizations to reduce the amount of nutrients flowing into local waterways.
"Pennsylvania is proud to have helped forge this historic compromise to save such a priceless resource as the Chesapeake Bay," said Kathleen A. McGinty, acting secretary of the Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection.
CBP officials said that the new science-based goals, developed over the past three years by researchers, scientists and policymakers from six states, the District of Columbia and the federal government, provide a framework to allow the Bay states and the District to implement plans to reduce nutrient pollution entering the Bay through local streams and rivers.
Additional information on the Chesapeake Bay Program can be accessed at www.chesapeakebay.net.
Great Lakes Pollutants Are Down
Levels of the most critical, persistent pollutants around the Great Lakes -- including mercury, dioxin, benzo(a)pyrene and hexachlorobenzene -- continued to go down in 2002.
According to a report from EPA and Environment Canada, 2002 Great Lakes Binational Toxics Strategy Progress Report, which was announced March 21, 2003, these reductions are part of a downward trend in toxic substances in the Great Lakes over the last 15 years.
Since 1988, mercury emissions in Ontario have gone down 78 percent. On the U.S. side, mercury releases have been reduced by 40 percent since 1990. There was a similar substantial reduction in dioxin releases on both sides of the border since the late 1980s, 92 percent in the United States and 79 percent in Canada. Since 1990, hexachlorobenzene emissions went down 75 percent in the United States and 65 percent in Canada and benzo(a)pyrene went down 48 percent in Canada and 25 percent in the United States.
Success in reducing these pollutants has been due to a combination of stronger regulations and voluntary actions. Some of the voluntary projects undertaken in 2002 were:
- Industry phase-out of the use of PCBs. Participating companies included Algoma Steel in Canada and Ford Motor Co. in the United States.
- The "Burn-it-Smart!" campaign in Ontario, which promotes cleaner wood-burning technologies, helping to reduce emissions of benzo(a)pyrene.
The report is available at www.binational.net/bns/2002.
Florida Focuses on Restoring the Everglades
A multibillion-dollar effort to restore the Everglades to a more natural state is currently under way in Florida. By capturing and storing excess water for later use during dry periods, planners hope to be able to maintain historical water levels, which they expect will revive many plant and animal species. To determine whether the Everglades are making an ecological comeback, a monitoring and assessment plan is being established by managers of the restoration effort to look for signs of recovery, such as new tree islands, more birds, greater seagrass coverage and larger catches of shrimp.
The monitoring and assessment plan is grounded in current scientific theory and the principles of adaptive management, which bases decision-making on the ongoing collection and analysis of scientific evidence, according to a report released by the National Academies' National Research Council. However, steps need to be taken to ensure that "feedback" channels are in place so information from those who are monitoring the ecology of the Everglades is readily available to those implementing the overall restoration effort. Establishing these formal links will ensure that decisions are based on the most up-to-date scientific information. In addition, the plan needs to place greater consideration on how population growth and changes in land use will affect the restoration effort and vice versa.
Some ecosystem-wide indicators are needed to complement the more than 100 individual hydrologic and ecological performance measures identified so far, the report states. For example, digital aerial and satellite photos should be used to assess changes in land cover and land use. The plan also needs to consider how rising sea levels and severe weather associated with global climate change will affect the restoration effort.
A prepublication of the report, Adaptive Monitoring and Assessment for the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan, can be accessed at www.nap.edu/catalog/10663.html?onpi_topnews_040203.
New Water Quality Rules for Oregon
A federal judge has ordered EPA to issue new federal standards to replace some water quality rules enacted by the Oregon Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ). These rules were found to violate the federal Clean Water Act (Northwest Environmental Advocates vs. EPA, D. Ore., No. CV-01-510-HA, March 31, 2003).
Ruling on standards issued by the Oregon DEQ requiring cool stream temperatures to meet the needs of protected bull trout and salmon, U.S. District Judge Ancer L. Haggerty stated that the state agency erred by not detailing where the standards would apply.
"Without accurate time and place designations, EPA cannot approve Oregon's revised criteria and comply" with the Clean Water Act, Haggerty stated.
Haggerty also criticized the National Marine Fisheries Service (NMSF), the listing agency for several populations of salmon and trout listed under the Endangered Species Act (ESA). After finishing its biological opinion of Oregon's water quality standards in 1999, the fisheries service concluded that Oregon's water quality standards had problems, but the listed fish wouldn't be jeopardized.
"NMFS's opinion contains no assurances that the state-based commitments on which it rested its no-jeopardy finding were likely to occur," the judge stated. NMFS was ordered to withdraw its biological opinion on the state water quality standards and to reinstate consultation under ESA.
In order to comply with Haggerty's order, EPA and the NMFS were given an opportunity to develop a joint timetable with the plaintiffs within 30 days. If the timetable is not completed by the deadline, the parties must file deadline proposals for the judge to review.
The Northwest Environmental Advocates of Portland, which contended that Oregon's water standards favored industry over the environment, filed the suit in 2001.
Everglades Coalition Priorities for 2003
The Everglades Coalition announced its priorities for 2003 at its 18th annual conference held in January of this year. Everglades restoration is the world's largest environmental project and the Everglades Coalition is the leading environmental voice advocating on behalf of the endangered ecosystem. The coalition includes 42 national, state and local organizations representing millions of members.
"These priorities define our work for the coming year," said Shannon Estenoz, co-chair of the coalition and director of World Wildlife Fund's South Florida field office. "They must be properly addressed if Everglades restoration is to move forward and succeed."
"We will not compromise on these six issues," said Juanita Greene, the Florida co-chair of the coalition and vice president of Friends of the Everglades. "We expect that these priorities will be addressed and our goals will be adopted as policy. They are scientifically sound and just plain good government."
The coalition holds to the following priorities:
- Programmatic Regulations -- As the regulations that will govern the Comprehensive Everglades Restoration Plan (CERP) over the next 30 years, the Coalition expects the final regulations, issued by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, to include independent scientific review, interim restoration goals, a strong role for the U.S. Department of Interior, clear direction that restoration goals take precedent over other goals and a definition of restoration that is based on the ecological characteristics of the Everglades.
- Flows to Everglades National Park including Florida Bay -- U.S. Congress must act immediately on the compromise solution, known as 6D, to restore water flows to the eastern portions of Everglades National Park and Florida Bay. Everglades National Park restoration projects must be implemented quickly and in a way that assures water is used for restoration and not other purposes.
- Water Quality -- The Florida Environmental Regulatory Commission (ERC) must adopt a 10 part per billion (ppb) phosphorus standard that applies uniformly to the entire Everglades. We will not accept regulations that would continue to allow large parts of the Everglades to receive heavy phosphorus contamination. The 1994 Everglades Forever Act will automatically impose a default standard of 10 ppb on December 31, 2003. If the ERC promulgates anything less protective, the Florida Department of Environmental Protection should terminate the current process and simply rely on the default standard already in the law.
- Authorizations -- Congress must authorize three projects: Water Preserve Areas (Bird Drive Recharge Area and the Southern Compartment of the Hillsboro Impoundment), Indian River Lagoon and Southern Golden Gate Estates. Together. These projects would restore and protect 270 square miles (about 172,000 acres) of wetlands and uplands, half the total land acquisition footprint of the CERP. Each of these projects face significant threats so fast action is critical.
- Funding -- The state must appropriate adequate money to continue the current pace of land acquisition and the legislature must act to provide the authority to issue bonds for Everglades restoration. Although the state has started to expedite land acquisition, funding is not adequate. If delays continue, lands for CERP implementation will increase in value or be lost entirely. In 2002, the Florida Legislature enacted an Everglades restoration bonds law and appropriated $125 million for the current year. Because the law included an unrelated and damaging amendment and is under litigation the state has chosen not to sell bonds.
- Growth Management -- Local governments must stop urban sprawl into the Everglades. In addition, local governments in the Keys must amend their land use plans to implement the Florida Keys Carrying Capacity Study. If these local governments do not uphold their responsibilities, the state must step in to exercise its oversight responsibilities under state law. Any restructuring of the state Department of Community Affairs must ensure a strong state oversight and enforcement role over decisions in south Florida that could adversely impact the Everglades.
This article originally appeared in the 05/01/2003 issue of Environmental Protection.