WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency has set drinking water contamination standards that underestimate how much water some people drink, according to consumer activist Ralph Nader and an agency employees union.
“This policy needs to be re-evaluated,” Nader said in a letter to EPA Administrator Lee M. Thomas released Saturday.
Nader said EPA has set standards based on the assumption that an adult is likely to drink at most two liters a day, or a little more than two quarts.
Nader said a recent, still-unpublished National Cancer Institute survey of water consumption by 26,000 people showed that half consumed two liters or less and half consumed more. The thirstiest group was 1 percent of men aged 20 to 44, who drank four liters of water a day and another liter and a half in juices and other beverages.
EPA spokesman Dave Ryan said, in effect, Nader appeared to have his figures wrong.
‘Our interpretation of the NCI study is that 80 to 85 percent of adults consume up to two liters per day,” Ryan said.
Other studies have put average daily consumption at 1.63 liters or 1.4 liters and “our two liters is going the extra mile,” Ryan said.
Nader opposed EPA’s decision last year to raise the amount of fluoride permitted in drinking water. He used fluoride for examples in his letter, but said, “This inadequacy is not limited solely to the fluoride standard but is present in all drinking water standards.”
Local 2050 of the National Federation of Federal Employees, representing EPA employees, also objects to the use of the two-liter assumption, said William Hirzy, an organic chemist in the agency’s pesticides program who is president-elect of the local.
“We went to the Science Advisory Board two or three weeks ago and they told us when the (NCI) study is published, they will review (the assumption),” Hirzy said Friday.
The local, he said, is not anti-fluoride, but “The use of the two-liter figure is simply wrong” and “reflects on us as professional scientists.”
Since children drink more water per pound than adults do, Nader said the new fluoride standards mean that half of all children up to 6 months could legally be permitted to drink water carrying enough fluoride to produce crippling skeletal fluorosis, or increased bone density.
And for the small proportion of adult males drinking 5.5 liters a day, EPA’s new, higher standard of four milligrams per liter means those adults could legally take in two milligrams more than the daily amount known to produce crippling skeletal fluorosis, Nader said.
“Clearly, then, the margin of safety allowed by EPA’s fluoride standard is not 2.5, as the EPA claims, but less than zero,” Nader wrote, asserting that the agency has violated federal law in failing to protect those adults.
Only a handful of cases of skeletal fluorosis have ever been found in the United States. The disorder is common in South Asia.
Fluoride is often added to water to prevent tooth decay in children. Dental societies say the optimum amount is one milligram per liter.
EPA estimates that only 184,000 people are served by some 282 drinking water systems that contain more than four milligrams per liter.
Nader asked Thomas to revise all drinking water standards that have been calculated on the assumption that two liters is the maximum likely daily consumption, and to reduce the fluoride standard back to what it was before, two milligrams per liter.