Texas Groups Demand Better Arsenic Warnings

Little children washing their hands in the kitchen

By Mark Richardson, Texas News Service

AUSTIN – Environmental groups want the federal government to tell Texas officials to do a better job of warning thousands of people their water is poisoned with arsenic. 

The Environmental Integrity Project issued a study in March showing since 2006, some 65 Texas community water systems have exceeded the Environmental Protection Agency standard for arsenic levels.

Tom Pelton, director of communications with the group, says despite its report state officials continue to tell the affected water customers that they are in no danger.

“TCEQ, the Texas Commission on Environmental Quality, they’ve been kind of blowing off the issue, which was the problem originally,” says Pelton. “They kind of say, ‘Oh, it’s not a problem. Don’t worry about it.’ And that’s very much like Michigan, how they responded to the drinking-water crisis in Flint.”

When asked to comment, a TCEQ spokesperson minimized the dangers of arsenic exposure beyond federal standards and said the agency is following EPA procedures for notifications.

According to the study, prolonged exposure to arsenic is linked to lung and bladder cancers, neurological problems, and other illnesses.

Pelton says the EPA safe standard for arsenic in drinking water is 10 parts per billion, but the 82,000 people who use the affected systems are drinking water with levels exceeding the limit.

Most of the affected systems serve small, rural communities, but some have as many as 5,000 customers.

“We had communities where people are drinking eight times the legal limit of arsenic in their water,” says Pelton. “And yet the state was sending them notices basically saying, ‘You do not need an alternative drinking supply. This is not an emergency.’ So, it’s kind of a mixed message; ‘Yes, there’s an arsenic violation, but go ahead and keep drinking the water.'”

In addition to the Environmental Integrity Project, groups signing an April 4 letter to the EPA include Environment Texas, Public Citizen, the SEED Coalition, the Texas Campaign for the Environment and the Lone Star Chapter of the Sierra Club.