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JOINT TESTIMONY OF J. CHARLES FOX AND NORINE NOONAN, PH.D.
March 3, 1999



JOINT TESTIMONY OF
J. CHARLES FOX
ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR, OFFICE OF WATER
AND
NORINE NOONAN, PH.D.
ASSISTANT ADMINISTRATOR, OFFICE OF RESEARCH AND DEVELOPMENT
U.S. ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION AGENCY
BEFORE THE
SUBCOMMITTEE ON FISHERIES, WILDLIFE, AND DRINKING WATER
OF THE
COMMITTEE ON ENVIRONMENT AND PUBLIC WORKS
UNITED STATES SENATE

March 3, 1999

INTRODUCTION

Thank you, Mr. Chairman, for the opportunity to address the Committee today. We are pleased to be able to discuss the Environmental Protection Agency's (EPA's) implementation of the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996. We would like to describe the progress that we have made in carrying out the new amendments, and in changing how we do business. EPA has been working in partnership with the entire drinking water community to implement the legislation, and we believe that together we can be proud of our accomplishments to date.

Two and a half years ago President Clinton signed into law amendments to the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA) passed by Congress. The bipartisan cooperation among this Committee's members provided critical leadership to enact effective and workable changes to the law. The Amendments were well-crafted and widely supported, as shown by the unanimous Senate support for their passage. Congress and the Administration agreed to make some significant changes in the Act to increase public health protection while controlling costs, and EPA and its partners in the drinking water community have spent the last two and a half years making those changes a reality.

We have completed every action required of us to date. These actions have provided a solid foundation of guidance and assistance for States, water suppliers, and the public as they take the next steps in implementation. At the same time we are planning for the future, to ensure that we will be able to meet the challenges of providing safe water into the future. I would like to discuss both our successes to date and highlight some of the challenges that we face over the next several years.

The 1996 Amendments made significant changes in how the SDWA works, emphasizing cost-effective public health protection through regulatory improvements, increased funding, prevention programs, and public participation. A focus on risk-based priority-setting means that EPA will decide which contaminants to regulate based on data about the adverse health effects of the contaminant, its occurrence in public water systems, and the projected risk reduction. The Amendments also expanded the role for consideration of benefits and costs in standard setting and implementation. Also, States now have greater flexibility to implement the Act responsibly to meet their specific needs. Funding is significantly increased through higher State drinking water program grants and a new multi-year, multi-billion dollar Drinking Water State Revolving Fund (DWSRF) for infrastructure improvements for water systems. In addition, new State prevention initiatives were created and funded, including a source water assessment program, which will give States and water suppliers information they need to prevent contamination of a community's drinking water source, thereby better enabling them to add an extra layer of defense to the current treatment options. Finally, the Amendments recognize that effective drinking water protection must be founded on a base of government accountability and public understanding and support. Right-to-know provisions, such as the consumer confidence reports, will give consumers the information they need to make their own health decisions. These provisions will also promote accountability in decision-making.

The 1996 Amendments also acknowledge that drinking water protection must be a shared effort across the entire drinking water community. EPA has used this concept to guide implementation of the new statute. Through our stakeholder process, the drinking water community has come together to work through a number of issues. We have greatly expanded the SDWA-authorized National Drinking Water Advisory Council (NDWAC) through a series of working groups on issues ranging from small system needs to a new approach to benefits assessment. All participants should be commended for their efforts.

SUCCESS IN IMPLEMENTING THE AMENDMENTS

Developing State and Local Programs

The success in implementing the 1996 Amendments will be determined as much by our partners in the States, water systems, and public as by EPA. We have made great strides in this effort over the past 2 years.

Funding is necessary for States and water systems to implement the new requirements of the Amendments. I am pleased to announce that all 50 States and Puerto Rico received their first Drinking Water State Revolving Fund capitalization grant from the FY '97 appropriations, 32 States have received their FY '98 capitalization grant, and Arizona has received its FY '99 capitalization grant for a total to date of $1.696 billion dollars. Continued federal capitalization will help us meet our long-term goal of the Drinking Water State Revolving Funds providing about $500 million in annual financial assistance to help communities ensure safe drinking water supplies. In order to address important drinking water needs, several States are leveraging their federal grants or considering transfers from their Clean Water State Revolving Funds to increase the amount of funds available to finance needed infrastructure projects. I believe that this is a remarkable achievement. Before passage of the 1996 Amendments, there was no drinking water loan infrastructure program at the national level. Now States have provided more than 350 loans to water systems to improve their ability to provide safe drinking water.

Congress also provided flexibility by allowing States to reserve a portion of their DWSRF grants to fund a number of programmatic set-asides, and States have taken advantage of that flexibility. Approximately 20 percent of the States' FY '97 capitalization grants and 13% of the FY' 98 capitalization grants have been used to fund set-aside programs supporting State drinking water programs, source water assessment and protection efforts, and measures to enhance the technical, financial and managerial capacity of drinking water systems.

Recognizing that preventing contamination of the source water is the first step in the multiple barrier approach to drinking water protection, the Amendments require States to complete assessments of the source water for all public water systems within the State. In 1997, EPA issued a source water assessment and protection guidance, developed through a NDWAC working group, to assist States as they developed their programs. Almost all States submitted programs by the statutory February 6 deadline, and the others are on schedules to do so shortly. All States took the DWSRF set-aside that will help them fund the assessments.

Implementation of the source water assessment and protection provisions will benefit from another Administration initiative, the Clean Water Action Plan. The Clean Water Action Plan brings together a wide range of federal agencies in support of clean water, including sources of drinking water. In October, federal agencies signed an agreement to support States as they conduct their source water assessments.

The 1996 Amendments created capacity development tools to support drinking water systems in acquiring and maintaining the technical, financial, and managerial capability to plan for, achieve, and maintain compliance with drinking water standards. Last summer EPA released guidance, developed with the assistance of a NDWAC working group, to help States work together with water systems to carry out new capacity development provisions of the law, including a requirement that States have authority to prevent the formation of new public water systems that lack the capability to operate and manage a drinking water system that is in compliance. States must also implement a strategy to help existing systems develop the capability to operate and maintain their system and ensure long-term compliance. States have been working very hard on these provisions, and most States have developed, or are developing, their programs to ensure new system capacity. We have seen many creative, well-thought-out programs.

Earlier this month EPA released its final operator certification guidelines. The final guidelines provide States with the minimum standards for the development, implementation, and enforcement of operator certification programs for community and nontransient noncommunity public water systems. These were also created with the assistance of a NDWAC working group, and will help ensure that all water systems have trained, qualified operators. Many States already have some type of operator training, so I am confident that States will develop these programs within the statutory time frame.

We have also moved forward in implementing the several provisions which benefit small drinking water systems. In 1997 EPA released a listing of alternative technologies that small systems can use to achieve compliance with existing drinking water standards. The DWSRF requires that a percentage of loans go to small water systems, and provides a set-aside for technical assistance to small systems. A large percentage of the loans given out to date -- initial estimates are nearly 50% -- have gone to small systems, and forty-seven States have taken the technical assistance set-aside. EPA has also funded small public water system Technical Assistance Centers in nine States. Finally, EPA issued regulations implementing the new small system variance procedures of the Act, and National Affordability Criteria that EPA will use in determining whether to list small system variance technologies. Affordable compliance technologies have been identified for all current standards, so no variance technologies have yet been listed.

Standard-setting

In the area of new drinking water standards, the Amendments laid out four major areas of work for EPA: completing priority rulemakings for contaminants named in the law; improving the science and data supporting rulemakings and risk management decisions; establishing a new process to make determinations on future standards that includes explicit consideration of the costs and benefits of proposed standards; and, reviewing existing standards. We are moving forward in all of these areas.

Last November, President Clinton released the Interim Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule (IESWTR) and the Disinfectants/Disinfection Byproducts Rule (DBPR). These rules were among Congress' highest priorities in 1996 Amendments. The two rules, which between them will provide additional protections for nearly all Americans who use public water supplies, both protect from microbiological contamination and address the risk trade-offs with disinfection byproducts. The IESWTR will protect persons who get their water from large water systems drawing from rivers, lakes, and streams by addressing, for the first time, Cryptosporidium, and tightening water treatment plant performance requirements. The DBPR complements this rule by addressing potential health threats that may be related to the disinfection process itself. It strengthens standards for trihalomethane, establishes new drinking water standards for seven disinfectant byproducts and three disinfectants, and requires treatment techniques to further reduce exposure to disinfection byproducts.

We have tried very hard to incorporate SDWA's ethic of public involvement in our rulemakings. I am proud to say that EPA developed these complex rules by using an extensive stakeholder involvement process, which included an advisory committee and numerous public meetings. As a result, we have two widely supported and understood rules that strengthen public health protection. We are now beginning a new round of discussions on the second phase of these rules, which will incorporate the results of the microbial and disinfection byproducts research that is currently ongoing.

EPA has also established a new process for standard-setting based on the greatest risks to health. The Amendments require EPA to make a regulatory determination on at least five contaminants by 2001. Using recommendations from the public, the scientific community, and a NDWAC working group, EPA established its Contaminant Candidate List, to aid in this determination, and to help set priorities for the Agency's drinking water program. In establishing the list, EPA has divided the contaminants among those which are priorities for additional research, those which need additional occurrence data, and those which are priorities for consideration for rulemaking. To provide sound occurrence data, EPA is developing its National Contaminant Occurrence Database, which will provide information on the occurrences in drinking water of specific contaminants. Finally, EPA will begin development of a process for reviewing the current drinking water standards.

At a time of great debate over the right framework for environmental and public health regulation, Congress and the Administration reached agreement on how to strengthen the consideration of cost and benefits in drinking water standards while continuing to ensure that health protection is maintained. Under the Amendments, EPA must conduct more extensive cost-benefit analyses for each regulation, and the Administrator may exercise new flexibility to ensure cost-effective standards based on these analyses. EPA is working with its stakeholders, through a National Drinking Water Advisory Council workgroup, to improve our cost-benefit tools to enable us to carry out this new approach. In February, EPA released the Health Risk Reduction and Cost Analysis as part of the rulemaking process for radon. The radon rule will be the first rule that uses SDWA's new cost-benefit framework.

Consumer Confidence Reports

The 1996 Amendments include a strong and pervasive ethic of public information and involvement. EPA has worked hard to incorporate this ethic by providing stakeholders with multiple opportunities to provide input into our rule development and implementation activities, and we are very proud of our efforts.

The Administration believes that every American has the right to know about their environment, and consumer confidence reports are the centerpiece of the right-to-know provisions in SDWA. SDWA requires water systems to provide these annual reports to their customers on the state of their drinking water supply. The information contained in these reports will enable Americans to make practical, knowledgeable decisions about their health and their drinking water. Last August, EPA finalized its rule specifying the requirements of these reports. All water systems are required to issue these reports by this October. Last fall we formed the Public Right-to-Know working group of the NDWAC to discuss how to increase public knowledge of these reports. I would like to recognize the efforts of the many water systems who are working to make these reports an important new means to communicate with the public and build partnerships with their consumers.

CHALLENGES

While I believe that we have been very successful in implementation to date, I realize that we have many challenges as well. The biggest single challenge over the next four to five years for the drinking water community as a whole, including EPA, is simply the cumulative number and size of the tasks we face. With greatly heightened efforts internally, with strong financial support from the Administration and Congress, with energetic and extensive cooperation from States and stakeholders, so far EPA has been able to produce -- virtually all on time -- durable and effective implementation products required by the law.

But from here, it gets harder for everyone. The regulatory products required of EPA over the next four to five years will need not only to continue to address the intent of their respective provisions in the law and the fundamental concerns of stakeholders, they will also need to be supported by a growing base of research and data that will be costly for EPA and demanding of stakeholders. States, water systems and other stakeholders will not only continue their active participation in helping EPA develop these new regulatory products, they will also have the burdens of implementing the new regulations and programs already developed since 1996. EPA, in turn, will have the additional responsibilities of assisting with, and overseeing, this implementation as the law specifies.

All of us in the drinking water community, including EPA, will face difficult choices on how to balance our efforts and resources to address all of the requirements under the law. Other key challenges flow from this most basic challenge. As we face the task of setting new drinking water standards, EPA must make sure that we have the science and information we need to make good, well-founded regulatory decisions on these standards. The Administration and the Congress increased funding for drinking water research shortly after passage of the 1996 Amendments. Much of the increase for health effects research has supported the M/DBP rules. We have developed a long-term research plan in support of the rules, and are working with many partners, such as the National Institutes of Health and the Centers for Disease Control. We would like to express appreciation to the National Institute of Environmental Health and Safety for their assistance as we conduct the research in support of our rulemakings. To meet the statutory requirements and deadlines for the new rulemakings, we must initiate research and data collection to evaluate the contaminants on the Contaminant Candidate List and to undertake the six-year review of existing standards. Under the 1996 Amendments, EPA is also required to establish a National Contaminant Occurrence Database that is available to the public. In FY 2000, we will begin to shift resources to support research of contaminants on the Contaminant Candidate List. Our challenge is to balance these research needs over the next several years to ensure that we have the science we need to make sound regulatory decisions.

A third challenge is the issue of data quality. Accurate information about the quality of our drinking water and its compliance with drinking water standards is vital to establishing new rules, evaluating the success of our programs, judging compliance trends and establishing priorities, and providing the public with information about drinking water quality. We have made great progress in making our information about drinking water quality available to the public. We have also found in doing so that the old adage applies: namely, that if you make data widely available, you must be exacting about the quality of that data, and you may need to improve it. We have recently had that experience with drinking water violations data in our Safe Drinking Water Information System (SDWIS). As we made SDWIS data available on the Internet, water systems pointed out errors in the information. We have developed with our stakeholders, and are implementing, a data reliability action plan to characterize and correct the data quality problems and put in place a long-term process to ensure data newly entered is correct.

DRINKING WATER RESEARCH

Drinking water continues to be one of EPA's highest priority areas of research because of the public concern with drinking water safety and the need to: enhance our understanding of the health effects of chemical and microbial contaminants in drinking water; reduce uncertainties in the assessment of exposure and risks to these agents; and, develop more cost-effective methods of water treatment for both large and small systems in the U.S. EPA's total annual investment in drinking water research in recent years has doubled, growing from a level of $20.8M for the Office of Research and Development (ORD) in FY 1995 to $41.5M in the FY 2000 President's Budget.

To respond to the critical research needs and requirements identified in the Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996, EPA's drinking water research program has focused on the high priority science needs in the areas of health effects, exposure, risk assessment, and risk management. The scientific quality of EPA's research activities has been ensured through the development of peer-reviewed research plans for Microbial Pathogens and Disinfection By-Products (1997) and for Arsenic (1998), along with a strict adherence to the peer-review process for all technical and scientific products. A number of the important underlying scientific issues that are of concern to the drinking water program are also being addressed through the EPA's core research program to improve health risk assessment.

EPA has strived to meet the extensive research demands of the 1996 Amendments by establishing new drinking water research partnerships with other federal agencies such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Institute for Environmental Health Sciences, and with outside research organizations such as the American Water Works Association Research Foundation. By strengthening the extramural research grants program, known as the STAR program, in drinking water, EPA has been able to substantially increase the involvement of the academic community in helping to solve the many difficult research challenges faced by the Agency.

Research on Microbial Pathogens and Disinfection By-Products

EPA's research activities on microbial pathogens and DBPs in drinking water are consistent with the highest priorities identified in the Research Plan for Microbial Pathogens and Disinfection By-Products in Drinking Water. This research program represents hundreds of projects to support more informed risk management decisions for the Stage 1 and Stage 2 DBP rules and the new microbial rules that apply to surface water and ground water.

Microbial Pathogens

EPA research on waterborne pathogens in recent years has provided new information and methods to better characterize and control the risks posed by microbial contaminants in drinking water. Studies to determine the infectious dose of two important waterborne pathogens, Cryptosporidium and Norwalk virus, have demonstrated that exposure to low levels of these agents in drinking water may cause infection in healthy humans. Less conventional treatment methods such as membrane filtration and alternatives to chlorination (e.g. ozonation) have been evaluated to determine their effectiveness in removing or inactivating waterborne pathogens. New technologies have been developed for increasing the operational efficiency of treatment processes to control microbial and chemical contaminants, and new methods for monitoring and predicting disinfectant concentrations in the distribution system have been developed to help ensure the safety of drinking water delivered at the tap.

Current areas of emphasis include research to determine the nature and magnitude of waterborne disease in the U.S., and the development of simple inexpensive and accurate detection methods for well-known waterborne pathogens such as Cryptosporidium and for emerging pathogens such as microsporidia. EPA researchers are also developing cost-effective water treatment systems for small systems, and are conducting research to better understand how microbial intrusion into the distribution system occurs and can be prevented.

Disinfection By-Products

In the area of disinfection byproducts, EPA has been a leader in development of an expanding scientific data base to assess DBP health effects. New and improved tools for conducting toxicology and epidemiology research on these substances are being applied to better understand the mechanisms by which effects occur in laboratory animals and humans, and to characterize the nature and magnitude of the problem in both the general population and in subpopulations that may be more susceptible to harm. In addition to the long-standing research program addressing the carcinogenic potential of DBPs, a major new investment has been made to better understand whether adverse reproductive, immunological, or neurologic effects may also be of concern.

As with microbial issues, DBP methods development is an essential focus both to improve occurrence information, and to expand our knowledge about what DBPs are formed from different treatment processes. To address these needs, EPA is developing analytical methods to support large-scale exposure surveys and facilitate regulatory compliance monitoring. Researchers are also applying highly sensitive analytical techniques to identify previously uncharacterized by-products that are formed with the use of alternative disinfectants.

Finally, EPA is conducting a range of studies to determine the effectiveness of various treatment processes in minimizing and controlling the formation of DBPs, with a special focus on the needs of small systems.

Research on Arsenic

The Safe Drinking Water Act Amendments of 1996 mandate that EPA promulgate a new regulation for arsenic by January 2001, and develop a plan for long-term research. EPA has designed and initiated implementation of a research plan which describes high priority research activities to address key areas of scientific uncertainty. Researchers at EPA are conducting studies to better characterize the toxicity of arsenic and the factors that influence human susceptibility. Improved analytical methods are being developed to better distinguish toxic forms of arsenic in the diet and in biological materials. Another important area of research is the development of arsenic treatment technologies for small water systems.

Research on the Contaminant Candidate List (CCL)

As mentioned previously, the EPA has established a Contaminant Candidate List (CCL) to aid in priority setting for the Agency's drinking water program. Contaminants in the Regulatory Determination Priority category are considered to have sufficient data available, or data that can be quickly collected, to evaluate both exposure and risk to public health and will be considered for regulation by August 2001. Contaminants listed under the Research or Occurrence Priorities category require additional data for making a determination. To determine the specific data needs in each of these categories and to prioritize contaminants for research, the Agency initiated the development of a strategic research plan for the CCL in May 1998. EPA has been working on a more refined plan that will identify research needs and priorities for all chemical and microbial contaminants on the list. The types of needs addressed by the plan include information on the health effects and occurrence of CCL contaminants, as well as validated analytical methods and effective treatment technologies.

A three-phase approach is being used to define the data needs for contaminants on the CCL. The current CCL represents the results of a Phase I analysis in which the available data on a particular contaminant were evaluated to determine if and in which category it should be placed on the list. In a Phase II screening-level analysis, minimum data set requirements are established to evaluate the adequacy of available health effects data, analytical methods, occurrence information, and treatment removal potential. Contaminants on the CCL are subjected to intensive research efforts in Phase III to develop more robust data sets in each of the areas described above.

Research on a number of critical contaminants on the CCL (e.g., MTBE, sulfate, and waterborne microbial pathogens such as Norwalk virus) is already being conducted by EPA, and general solicitations have been made under the Agency's external grants program. Additional Phase II and III research needs for CCL contaminants will be addressed beginning in FY 2000, following the priorities outlined in the CCL research plan that is currently under development.

Looking to the Future

EPA is conducting a detailed, comprehensive analysis of research needs and resource requirements to address the entire spectrum of drinking water research issues in the future. This analysis includes an examination of the needs for DBPs, arsenic, chemical and microbial contaminants on the CCL, and substances for which national drinking water standards have already been established but must be reevaluated in the coming years. EPA will seek the guidance of the Agency's Science Advisory Board, outside experts and the drinking water Stakeholders to make sure that the highest priority needs are being addressed in the most sound scientific manner. Another key to meeting the research challenges of the future will be to continue to leverage capabilities and resources with other Federal agencies, the drinking water industry, academia, and other outside organizations. We are confident that by following this path, we will ensure that future drinking water regulations and risk management decisions will be focused on the most important public health problems and based on the best available science.

CONCLUSION

In 1996 the Administration and Congress gave the American people a sensible and comprehensive law to protect public health. The law dramatically increased the effort needed from all members of the drinking water community, and challenged each of them by giving them a key role in ensuring the safety of our nation's drinking water supplies. I am happy to report that all participants have accepted this challenge. Implementation of the Act is moving forward very successfully. In the past two years, EPA and its partners have created a framework that embodies the principles of the 1996 Amendments, and developed many of the tools necessary to provide cost-effective public health protection into the 21st Century.


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