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

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Last month, however, President Bush rolled back Clinton's orders that had called for reducing the arsenic level in water. So now it's unknown how vigorously any new pollution standards would be enforced. But legislators are chiming in.

"We're going to send him [Bush] the movie. We're also going to send him a couple of bottles of water. One that has [high] levels of chromium 6 in it, and one that has low levels. I think he'll make the right choice," Boxer says. Her home state of California may have many sites where chromium wastes from defense plants may have wound up in the water supply.

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.

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