News Feature | May 11, 2016

Should Regulators Use Federal Or State Contamination Standards?

Sara Jerome

By Sara Jerome,

North Carolina lawmakers are debating whether to use state or federal standards when deciding to alert residents about dangers in their drinking water.

State health officials sent out do-not-drink advisories to 360 water well owners last year. Vanadium and hexavalent chromium potentially linked to coal ash ponds were the primary concerns.

They withdrew the majority of the alerts this year, North Carolina Health News reported. Regulators said the state rules that triggered the warnings are stricter than federal standards, according to the report.

Now, lawmakers are pushing to clarify protocols around do-not-drink advisories and which Maximum Contaminant Levels (MCLs) to use.

“Bills filed in the House and Senate by two of the three chairmen of the legislative Environmental Review Commission so far propose using the federal MCLs and limits linked to state groundwater standards. Those state standards, often stricter than the federal MCLs, are used to determine contaminant levels allowed after clean up of detected groundwater pollution,” the report said.

Rep. Jimmy Dixon is among those championing new legislation. He wants to prevent the state from providing inconsistent messages around water safety.

“We don’t want to issue directions for no drinking and then take it back. Once you ring the bell, it’s hard to un-ring it,” Dixon said, per the report. “I want us to learn from those experiences and craft better language and legislation so that we face these situations differently in the future.”

House Bill 1005, for instance, would clarify definitions regarding when health regulators should issue drinking water health advisories.

“The state’s Department of Environmental Quality and Department of Health and Human Services favor water health-risk evaluation standards based upon federal maximum contamination limits, or MCLs, created under the federal Safe Drinking Water Act,” North Carolina Health News reported, citing state environmental regulators.

North Carolina is home to 50 coal ash impoundments, according to the Southern Alliance for Clean Energy. Public interest advocates want to see the state place more pressure on industry to prevent coal ash risks to drinking water.

In a recent move, North Carolina is requiring Duke Energy to clean up 14 facilities, with a focus on “the four sites that have the greatest environmental risks,” recently reported.

To read more about the rules governing treatment visit Water Online’s Drinking Water Regulations And Legislation Solutions Center.