New Study on Arsenic In Water: Big Risk

New Study Shows Bigger Risk From Arsenic In Water

WASHINGTON Sep 14, 2001 (Reuters) -

As the Bush administration mulls whether to tighten limits on arsenic in drinking water, a new study shows a higher risk of lung or bladder cancer from arsenic than previously thought, the National Academies of Science said on Thursday.

"Even very low concentrations of arsenic in drinking water appear to be associated with a higher incidence of cancer," said Dr. Robert Goyer, chairman of the National Academies of Science committee that wrote the report. "We estimated the risk of developing cancer at various arsenic concentrations, and now it is up to the federal government to determine an acceptable level to allow in drinking-water supplies," added Dr. Goyer, a retired pathology professor at the University of Western Ontario.An EPA spokesman was not immediately available for comment.

The report by the panel of scientists was requested by the Bush administration. Days before President Bill Clinton left office in January, his government announced a plan to lower the limit to 10 ppb, but the incoming Bush administration put that rule on hold and asked for another study by the National Academies of Science.That move was applauded by many business and mining groups, which feared tighter arsenic limits would be costly, and the administration was harshly criticized by environmental groups.

Dr. Goyer said the report bolsters a 1999 study by the National Academies of Science that found a high risk of cancer at the current arsenic limit of 50 ppb.  That level ranks as the highest among developed nations. The scientists found that men and women who daily consume water containing 10 ppb of arsenic have more than a 3 in 1000 increased risk of developing bladder or lung cancer during their lifetime.  That risk increases to 7 in 1000 at 20 ppb, the panel said.

The science panel said its new risk estimates were greater than those on which the EPA based its rule in January because the committee used different assumptions, based mostly on Taiwanese cancer rates and arsenic in water.  Arsenic may also increase the chance of other diseases, but more study is needed to pinpoint the exposure risk, the science group said.

The Democratic-led Senate and the Republican House of Representatives each passed legislation during the past 2 months to force the Bush administration to tighten limits on arsenic to at least 10 ppb.

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