Checking For Contaminants | Chemical & Engineering News
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Web Date: March 4, 2011

Checking For Contaminants

Regulation: Environment agency proposes monitoring 28 chemicals in drinking water
Department: Government & Policy
News Channels: Environmental SCENE
Keywords: drinking water, EPA

Utilities will have to test drinking water for the presence of 28 chemicals, including several hormones and perfluorinated compounds, under a March 3 proposal from the Environmental Protection Agency.

None of the substances in the proposal is regulated under the Safe Drinking Water Act. But that law requires EPA every five years to identify up to 30 unregulated contaminants for possible monitoring.

Twenty-eight substances are proposed for monitoring. They include compounds important to chemical manufacturing, such as the feedstock 1,1-dichloroethane and 1,3-butadiene, which use in making synthetic rubber and plastics. Other compounds in the proposal are: sex hormones, including estradiol; the solvent 1,4-dioxane; the pesticide methyl bromide; and six perflurorinated compounds, including perfluorooctanoic acid. Four metals – cobalt, molybdenum, strontium, and vanadium – are also listed in EPA's proposal.

In addition, EPA also included norovirus and enterovirus for possible monitoring, bringing the total number of contaminants listed in the proposal to 30. The 28 substances and two viruses were drawn from an initial list of about 150 chemical and microbiological contaminants, EPA says.

"Learning more about the prevalence of these contaminants will allow EPA to better protect people's health," says Nancy Stoner, acting assistant administrator for EPA's Office of Water.

In the proposal, the agency notes that it does not include hexavalent chromium on its new list. The compound gained notoriety with the release in 2000 of the hit film "Erin Brockovich"--the real life story of a young legal researcher who battled Pacific Gas & Electric in California, for polluting drinking water with the carcinogenic substance. EPA Administrator Lisa P. Jackson told Congress earlier this year that the agency is likely to regulate the substance in drinking water (C&EN, Feb. 7, page 6).

"EPA is aware of potential concerns about Cr6+ occurrence in public water supplies," the proposal says, but the agency had already hit the maximum number of contaminants under the law. Instead, the agency is seeking comments from the public on whether it should require utilities to monitor drinking water for CR6+. The agency also asked any proponents of this idea to suggest which of the 30 contaminants in the proposal should come off the list to make room for CR6+.

More information on the proposal is available at

The Environmental Working Group (EWG), an activist group that has sought regulation of perfluorooctanoic acid in drinking water, praises EPA for including perfluorinated chemicals in the proposal.

EWG also says that because EPA is seeking voluntary monitoring of Cr6+ by utilities, it makes sense that the agency did not include the metal among the contaminants in proposed regulation. If Cr6+ is included in the final version of the rule, data collection will not start until 2012. EWG says it "greatly hopes that the chromium-6 monitoring will take place much sooner than that."

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