CONGRESSWOMAN ELISE STEFANIK
On Tuesday, February 24, 2015, the House will consider H.R. 212, the Drinking Water Protection Act, under a suspension of the rules. H.R. 212 was introduced on January 8, 2015 by Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH) and referred to the Committee on Energy and Commerce.
H.R. 212 amends the Safe Drinking Water Act to require the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) to develop and submit to Congress (within 90 days of enactment) a strategic plan for assessing and managing risks associated with algal toxins in drinking water provided by public water systems. The strategic plan must include steps and timelines to: 1) evaluate the risk to human health from drinking water provided by public water systems contaminated with algal toxins; 2) publish and update a comprehensive list of algal toxins EPA determines are harmful to health when present in drinking water (and summarizing their health effects; 3) identify factors that cause toxin-producing cyanobacteria and algae to proliferate and express toxins; 4) determine whether to publish health advisories on specific algal toxins and establish guidance for how to quantify the presence of algal toxins (including whether to set guidance on monitoring frequency); 5) recommend treatment options to mitigate adverse health effects caused by algal toxins; and 6) enter into cooperative agreements and provide technical assistance to states and public water systems to aid in managing risks associated with algal toxins in drinking water.
Moreover, this legislation requires the EPA to identify gaps in the Agency’s understanding of algal toxins, including the human health effects of identified algal toxins and the methods of testing and monitoring for the presence of harmful algal blooms in public water systems. As appropriate, EPA is directed to consult with other federal and state agencies that actively analyze algal toxins and their impact on public health. Finally, H.R. 212 requires the GAO to inventory and report to Congress (within 90 days of the bill’s enactment) on federal spending, between fiscal years 2010 and 2014, on analyses and public health efforts of the federal government on algal toxins, including: 1) the specific purpose for which funds were made available; 2) the law under which the funds were authorized; 3) the agency that received or spent the funds. The GAO is directed under the bill to recommend steps to reduce duplication and improve coordination of such expenditures.
Algae and cyanobacteria is generally found in lakes and other surface water. “Certain combinations of conditions trigger growth of cyanobacteria in these waters, including warm water temperatures and high levels of light and nutrients (primarily phosphorus and nitrogen).” These nutrients include fertilizers, discharges from sewage treatment plants, and storm water runoff. “Some cyanobacteria contain cyanotoxic strains that can contaminate surface waters and drinking water supplies.” Exposures to these strains are thought to primarily occur during recreational activities, and can cause serious health effects.
Contamination by algal blooms gained public attention in the summer of 2014 when blue-green algae (cyanobacteria) laced with a toxin called microcystin (a cyanotoxin or algal toxin) were found in Lake Erie and the Collins Water Treatment Plant in Toledo, Ohio. On Saturday, August 2, 2014, based upon two sample readings for microcystin, the City of Toledo urged all customers of Toledo’s water to neither drink nor boil its treated tap water. The advisory lasted for two days. Currently, there are no enforceable federal standards or guidelines for algal toxins in drinking water, although the World Health Organization (WHO) has issued a provisional standard of 1 microgram per liter for microcystin-LR, the algal toxin found in Toledo’s water system. The EPA has begun taking “aggressive action to develop and publish health advisories, water quality criteria, and analytical methods while providing ongoing technical assistance to states and communities.” H.R. 212 would coordinate EPA’s efforts and enhance collaboration among federal agencies and states to address this public health problem.
 Energy and Commerce, Hearing Document: H.R. 212, the Drinking Water Protection Act, at 2.
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The CBO estimates that implementing H.R. 212 would cost less than $500,000 annually over the next two years, assuming the availability of appropriated funds. “To the extent that EPA would update the strategic plan in future years, additional funding would be required; however, CBO estimates costs would not exceed $500,000 annually.” Enacting H.R. 212 would not affect direct spending or revenues.
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