Rep. Mike Simpson, R-Idaho, says it’s too costly for small towns in the west to filter out arsenic from the water and has been fighting for more than a decade to change Environmental Protection Agency standards on the toxic chemical.
The EPA requires drinking water to have less than 10 parts per billion of arsenic. In the western U.S. there is more arsenic in the water supply because of naturally higher levels in the earth’s crust, The Daily Beast reports.
The eight-term Republican says forcing small towns to meet that requirement wreaks havoc on their budgets.
“Communities across Idaho have struggled to meet the federal government’s arsenic standards and are often forced to make difficult, even impossible, budget decisions in order to do so,” Simpson told The Daily Beast in a statement.
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Arsenic exposure can cause cancer, skin lesions and neurological disorders, according to the CDC.
According to David Heath, senior reporter at the Center for Public Integrity, Simpson is single-handedly responsible for the long-delayed EPA study into arsenic, which is required to ban herbicides containing the dangerous toxin.
“So, who did it? All the evidence from the Center’s investigation pointed to one congressman: Mike Simpson of Idaho,” the report says.
“I’m worried about drinking water and small communities trying to meet standards that they can’t meet,” Simpson said, noting that he was not lobbied by pesticide companies to make the delay.
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“There is no safe level of exposure to a genotoxic chemical—any exposure may incur some risk because genetic errors introduced in a single cell following arsenic exposure can cascade into cancer, birth defects and developmental damage,” said Dr. Kathleen Burns, director of Sciencecorps, a network of health professionals focused on environmental and occupational health.
Burns says arsenic in drinking water is also a racial issue because it can cause cardiovascular disease, which African Americans run a higher risk of developing.
Lynn Thorp, a senior policy specialist at Clean Water Action, accused Simpson of interfering with science.
“We never, ever question that cost is an issue. But we could never concede that cost is a reason to [lower] drinking water standards,” Thorp said.
The World Health Organization says groundwater contamination is the single greatest threat of arsenic poisoning.
“The greatest threat to public health from arsenic originates from contaminated groundwater,” it says. “Inorganic arsenic is naturally present at high levels in the groundwater of a number of countries, including Argentina, Bangladesh, Chile, China, India, Mexico, and the United States of America.”