U.S. Senator Barbara Boxer, D-Calif., chair of the Senate Committee on Environment and Public Works, has introduced two bills to require the U.S. EPA to set drinking water standards for chromium-6 (hexavalent chromium) and perchlorate, an approach the American Water Works Association resists because it bypasses Safe Drinking Water Act procedures.

Congress doesn't need to legislate individual drinking water standards contaminant by contaminant, Chuck Murray, general manager of Fairfax Water in Virginia, told the Congressional committee on behalf of the association at a Feb. 2 hearing. He emphasized the need to follow the law's scientific methodologies, which include the Unregulated Contaminant Monitoring Rule and the Candidate Contaminant List process, both of which were added to the law in 1996 by amendments.

Written testimony by Carrie Lewis, superintendent of the Milwaukee Water Works on behalf of the Association of Metropolitan Water Agencies, also cautioned “against undermining the [Safe Drinking Water Act] process and forcing EPA to regulate certain contaminants simply because they have been highlighted by an outside group or featured in the news media.”

EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson, however, says the agency will continue to develop a regulation for perchlorate. EPA scientists believe the chemical may impact the normal function of the thyroid, which produces hormones critical to the development and growth of fetuses, infants, and children.

The agency, which issued guidance on enhanced monitoring for chromium-6 in January, is also establishing a standard to address a group of up to 16 toxic chemicals.

The issue has gained increased attention due to a December report released by the nonprofit research organization Environmental Working Group that alleges drinking water in 31 cities contain detectable levels of chromium-6. The chemical is suspected to cause cancer with long-term exposure.

Bill S78 would require EPA to issue a health advisory for perchlorate 90 days after enactment and issue a drinking water regulation one year after enactment that “fully protects pregnant women, infants, and children, taking into consideration body weight, exposure patterns, and all routes of exposure to perchlorate.”

Bill S79, co-sponsored by Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., would require the same actions under the same time frames for chromium-6.