As reported in theNew York Times, details of a recent report by the National Academy of Sciences have concluded that arsenic levels in drinking water are too high. For decades, the EPA set an acceptable arsenic level of 50 parts per billion. But recent studies suggested that this level was too high and increased the risk of bladder and lung cancer. Officials with the Bush administration are re-evaluating the levels and would wait for the new report by the academy before determining whether to set the level at 3 parts per billion, 5, 10 or 20 ppb. A senior administration official said that the report found an increased risk of cancer if the level was above 10 parts per billion. " We are not considering anything higher than 20," this official asserted. The official said that EPA Administrator Christine Whitman would make a ruling by February of next year.

Municipalities that would have to correct their water systems have argued that the cost to them would far outweigh the benefits to the public in cleansing arsenic, which occurs naturally, out of drinking water.

Arsenic is a common byproduct of mining operations, so stricter standards for its in drinking water would translate into stricter standards for many mining sites.

The report completed by the academy examined only the public health consequences of arsenic and did not conduct a cost-benefit analysis for water suppliers.