EPA Said to Deviate From Past Practice By Seeking Voluntary Chromium Monitoring

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The Environmental Protection Agency is deviating from past practice by asking drinking water utilities to monitor tap water for hexavalent chromium voluntarily without developing a health advisory or requiring monitoring under the unregulated contaminant monitoring rule, representatives of drinking water utilities told BNA.

Historically, EPA has required utilities to monitor suspected contaminants--such as perchlorate or methyl tertiary butyl ether (MTBE)--and thereby establish occurrence data under the unregulated contaminant monitoring rule (UCMR), according to the utilities.

The agency would then use these data along with health assessment studies to determine whether to regulate the suspected contaminant, the American Water Works Association said.

Regulatory Process Sidestepped.

“This is the first time in my 20 years in drinking water that EPA has strongly recommended monitoring for a contaminant without going through the UCMR process or developing a health advisory,” Alan Roberson, AWWA's director of federal relations, told BNA Jan. 28.

EPA did not respond to a request for comment.

EPA issued regulatory guidance Jan. 11 asking urban and rural drinking water utilities to monitor hexavalent chromium, or chromium-6, in tap water at least twice a year using a method already in use in California that can detect the metal at parts-per-trillion levels.

AWWA and the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies raised these and other concerns about EPA's approach in separate letters sent to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson the week of Jan. 24 in advance of a Feb. 2 hearing before the Senate Environment and Public Works Committee on hexavalent chromium (18 DEN A-7, 1/27/11).

The groups told BNA Jan. 28 that their representatives plan to bring up their concerns when they testify before the Senate committee.

In a Jan. 28 letter to EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson and EPA Assistant Administrator for Water Bob Perciasepe, AWWA Deputy Executive Director Thomas Curtis said “the agency has available to it a regulatory structure that addresses these issues through the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule.”

Curtis said the UCMR is a time-tested process for obtaining “a meaningful and actionable national occurrence dataset for contaminants of potential concern in drinking water. … If the Agency wished water providers to undertake extensive testing for chromium-6, we believe the UCMR process should have been cited and used.”

Health Assessment Not Yet Complete.

In the letter, Curtis reiterated that EPA has not completed a health risk assessment that would support concerns over the potential threat hexavalent chromium in tap water could pose to the public.

Without the assessment, Curtis wrote, “Neither water systems nor the public have a clear point of reference as to whether minute quantities of chromium-6 represent a health risk and if so, how much.”

AMWA Executive Director Diane VanDe Hei's Jan. 27 letter focused on how utilities would implement the guidance in its current form. She said AMWA members want a “clear understanding” of “whether the monitoring data will be valid given the method, as described in EPA's guidance, is not officially approved.”

EPA's guidance recommended using California laboratories that are certified and equipped to detect hexavalent chromium at the EPA suggested 20 parts per trillion levels. The guidance acknowledges that many laboratories outside California might not be set up to detect hexavalent chromium at the suggested levels.

VanDe Hei also said it would help AMWA's members to know EPA's timeline for deciding whether it would revise the standard for total chromium, which includes hexavalent chromium, or develop a separate standard for chromium-6 through rulemaking. EPA says the total chromium standard currently is being met.

Hexavalent chromium is regulated under EPA's maximum contaminant level (MCL) for total chromium, which cannot exceed 100 ppb.

By Amena H. Saiyid

The letter from AWWA Deputy Executive Director Thomas Curtis on EPA's guidance for detecting hexavalent chromium in drinking water is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=smiy-8dmqa7.

The letter from AMWA Executive Director Diane VanDe Hei is available at http://op.bna.com/env.nsf/r?Open=smiy-8dmqb7.