Two U.S. agencies dictate safer water

The current allowance is 50 parts arsenic per 1 billion parts water.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency are implementing changes that will more aggressively limit the amount of arsenic allowed in water by January.

The current standards limit water to 50 parts of arsenic for every 1 billion parts of water. The revised arsenic standard for both tap and bottled water will be 10 parts per billion.

Issued by the FDA in December, the changes will require the bottled-water industry to monitor its product more closely, said Ted Labuza, a University food science and nutrition professor. The guidelines say manufacturers must test both bottled water and the water’s source at least once a year for arsenic.

Arsenic is a carcinogen that has neurological and reproductive health risks, Labuza said.

“These occur at a much higher level of ingestion than we get from water, so the main risk is cancer,” he said.

The possibility of cancer is a reason both regulatory bodies are lowering the arsenic standard to 10 parts per billion. Labuza said the FDA calculated lowering the arsenic limit will save the lives of four to five people from dying of cancer attributed to arsenic exposure.

“The FDA supports lowering the arsenic level, because it makes fiscal sense,” Labuza said.

Those four or five cancer cases can cost society between $9 million and $36 million. But dropping the arsenic level to 10 parts per billion will cost the bottled water industry $7 million to $10 million, he said.

“The cost is less than the risk,” Labuza said. “Who can argue over saving four to five lives?”

Bottled-water companies move quickly

Some bottled-water companies are already complying with arsenic-level standards before they officially go into effect.

Coca-Cola, the manufacturer of Dasani bottled water, said it allows no arsenic in the product.

“Using the EPA-approved testing method, we have not detected arsenic in Dasani,” said Ray Crockett, a public relations representative for Coca-Cola. “The reverse osmosis purification process used with Dasani removes arsenic and other impurities.”

Students at the University said they agree lowering the arsenic standard in public drinking water and bottled water is a good thing.

Even some students who said they do not drink bottled water agreed on the issue.

“I refuse to drink bottled water. Why pay for water?” University student Nils Hoeger-Lerdal said. “But it is a good thing to lower the arsenic level in both.”

Considered both a food and a natural resource, water is regulated by both the FDA and EPA. But this split in control can result in conflicting safety standards.

According to the FDA Web site, there are instances in which “FDA standards for bottled water are different than EPA standards for public drinking water.”

In addition to arsenic, the EPA lowered the amount of lead allowed in public water to 15 parts per billion in 1991. According to the Web site, lead can often enter the water stream from corroding pipes.

When the FDA made a similar change to its regulations three years later, it dropped its lead standard to 5 parts per billion, indicating bottled water does not go through corroding pipe systems, according to its Web site.

– Freelance editor Steven Snyder welcomes comments at