Drinking water standards worry Kenai Peninsula officials

Posted: Sunday, February 04, 2001

KENAI (AP) -- Kenai Peninsula communities may face considerable expense to remove arsenic that occurs naturally in their drinking water if new federal regulations signed by the Clinton administration are allowed to take effect.

The current acceptable limit of arsenic, a naturally occurring heavy metal, in drinking water is 50 parts per billion. The new level would be 10 parts per billion.

Since arsenic occurs naturally in relatively high amounts in some parts of the Kenai Peninsula, and in some cases exceeds the new levels, officials are worried that expensive remediation measures would have to be taken.

''There are a few different ways to treat it, but they're all very expensive,'' said Kenai Public Works director Keith Kornelis. ''We would have to ask for a grant to pay for it.''

The new regulations are in limbo. President George W. Bush put a 60-day hold on their implementation so his administration could evaluate and possibly repeal them. If they go into effect, communities would have until 2006 to comply.

Steve Shreiber, of the National Rural Water Association, a water utility membership association in Duncan, Okla., said one part per billion is equivalent to one grain of salt in 1,000 1-liter bottles of soda, or one grain of salt in a 260-gallon tank of water.

Shreiber said the change would cost communities thousands of dollars to bring arsenic down to the new level.

''Small systems do not have the money to bring arsenic down to the 10 ppb range,'' he said. ''That's one reason the rule was stopped, because there was so much outcry from small systems.''

''We don't see the benefits from this,'' Shreiber said. ''We don't see anybody dying from arsenic.''

Dave Litchfield, an environmental specialist with the DEC, said there is not a lot of hard science behind the 10 ppb figure, or the 3 ppb level the EPA had originally proposed.

''The public water systems just went crazy, since that would affect a lot of people and cost a lot of money to do it,'' he said. ''So the EPA backed off.''

There are a handful of treatment options to get arsenic out of water, including coagulation, softeners and microfiltration, he said. The catch is that the water must be treated at its source, and in Kenai and Soldotna, wells are scattered.

There are 36 ppb of arsenic in one Kenai well. According to Steve Bonebrake, Soldotna public works director, one current well and the city's new test well have arsenic in levels ''a freckle'' above the 10 ppb level.

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