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Wave of Water-Quality Concerns Hits the U.S.

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Woods says that her agency does regulate chromium 6 through control of total chromium in the water, and that safe levels are reviewed every six years as part of an overall clean-water standard. A preliminary decision about revising the levels is scheduled for later this year, but environmentalists are skeptical about any big changes.

"I think unless there's a gun being held to their head, [the EPA is] not moving forward on too many things right now," Eric Olson, JD, senior staff attorney for the National Resources Defense Council (NRDC), tells WebMD.

Regarding Bush's recent arsenic reversal, one source speaking on condition of anonymity says the EPA could refer the arsenic question back to the NAS for another review.

"That would be a huge joke," Ed Hopkins, director of environmental quality programs at the Sierra Club, tells WebMD. "Because in 1999, the [NAS] came out with a big study on arsenic in the water supply ... and said the EPA should revise the standard downward as promptly as possible. And to now go back to the NAS to do another study would be ridiculous," he says.

Woods says she can't figure out where the rumor is coming from, but replies, "We're looking at all our options."

Meanwhile, Boxer says that water supplies from Los Angeles to communities in Ohio and Massachusetts may be threatened with chromium 6. And in the House, some 150 Democrats are introducing legislation that would reverse the weakening of the rules governing arsenic in water.

Until more actions are taken, both environmentalists and regulators say Americans can do their part to check the quality of the water they use at home. For starters, get an annual report from the local water agency, which specifies its standards and how it's handling any pollution problems. Don't throw it out -- read it carefully.

In many cases, a water company will analyze a sample of tap water for free. However, to look for specific pollutants like chromium 6, lead, pesticides, or certain bacteria, contact an EPA-approved lab. The cost could run $100 per contaminant analyzed.

The labs can be found through the EPA's drinking water hotline at 1-800-426-4791.

Should you choose to put a filter on your tap, the National Sanitary Foundation has a number of recommendations. The nonprofit certification group's web site is www.nsf.org. Generally, the most expensive devices are reverse-osmosis varieties that run water through a small membrane. They cost about $400.

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