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---September 7, 1987---
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Drinking water regulations for eight toxic chemicals were announced by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in the FEDERAL REGISTER July 8 (pgs. 25690-25717). EPA established the standards as required by the federal Safe Drinking Water Act. The eight chemicals, and the new standards appear in Table 1, below. In the same Table, we present data from the EPA's FEDERAL REGISTER notice, showing how many Americans the EPA would expect to die each year from water pollution from five of these eight chemicals if we all drank water all our lives contaminated at the allowed level.* The five chemicals are carcinogens. Thus the EPA says it expects that, if all our water supplies were to become as contaminated as is allowed under the new EPA regulations, these five chemicals would kill nearly as many people each year as automobiles now kill. One key difference would be that the pollution deaths would be lingering cancer deaths, not abrupt accidents. Another difference is that these deaths will have been sanctioned by the state without "due process" for the victims.

Standards for Eight Toxic Chemicals

Chemical               Standard                 Expected
(parts                  annual
per                     deaths
billion)                (U.S.)

benzene                    5                      970 
carbon tetrachloride       5                     4314 
1,2-dichloroethane         5                     3065 
trichloroethylene          5                      448 
para-dichlorobenzene      75 
1,1-dichloroethylene       7 
1,1,1-trichloroethane    200 
vinyl chloride             2                   30,989

DRINKING WATER POLLUTION...........            39,786

*Method of calculation: In the FEDERAL REGISTER notice (Table 2, pg. 25700), EPA presents the chemical concentration in drinking water that they estimate would cause one cancer in 100,000 people drinking water contaminated at that level for a lifetime. For each chemical, we simply divided that number into the announced standard, then multiplied the result by the current size of the U.S. population (233 million people) divided by 100,000. For example, EPA's Table 2 says vinyl chloride at 0.00015 mg/l (0.15 ppb) will cause one death in 100,000 lifetime water drinkers. The established standard for vinyl chloride is 0.002 mg/l (2 ppb). Dividing 0.002 by 0.00015 yields 13.3; this is the number of people expected to be killed among each group of 100,000 water consumers if the water contains 0.002 mg/l (2 ppb) vinyl chloride. How many groups of 100,000 water consumers are there in the U.S. (which has a population of 233 million)? Answer: 233,000,000/100,000 = 2330. Multiplying 2330 x 13.3 yields 30,989 expected deaths each year.
--Peter Montague, Ph.D.

Descriptor terms: drinking water regulations; sdwa; epa; safe drinking water act; cancer; benzene; carbon tetrachloride; 1,2-dichloroethane; trichloroethylene; para-dichlorobenzene; 1,1-dichloroethylene; 1,1,1- trichloroethane; vinyl chloride;

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