W A S H I N G T O N, March 21 -- The Bush administration is continuing to slowly chip away at the Clinton legacy, withdrawing new rules that sharply limit arsenic in drinking water.
The rules, proposed during President Clinton's final days in office, would lower by 80 percent the amount of poisonous arsenic allowed in public drinking water. But it also would have forced 3,000 communities — largely in mining communities in the West — to spend money to upgrade their water systems to protect against arsenic poisoning.
EPA Administrator Christine Todd Whitman is backing away from the regulation, saying she will seek more public comment and scientific review — a process that could take months. Arsenic is a cancer-causing byproduct of mining gold, copper and other metals, and occurs naturally in groundwater — particularly in heavily populated parts of Michigan.
But Dr. Michael Harbut, chief of environmental medicine at Providence Hospital in Southfield, Mich., calls the move a blatant disregard for human health.
"From a common sense approach, I don't think any parent or any families is gonna want any arsenic in their water to be given to their children. And this approach of the government is at best irresponsible," Harbut said. "I hope this is not a harbinger of a free-for-all in the air and water by industry and polluters, but gosh, you sure worry about it."
The wife of the man behind the original rules, Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton, D-N.Y., said today it appears Bush is on a "harm offensive."
"It is baffling, just baffling," Senate Minority Leader Tom Daschle said today. "We're going to have to put warning labels on waterbottles if this goes through."
Gregory Wetstone, of the Natural Resources Defense Council, all but accused Bush of selling out the nation's health to the mining industry.
"People die as a result of drinking contaminated drinking water with arsenic," Wetstone said. "It's really tragic to see this effort slowed down and maybe stopped, really at the behest of campaign contributors and mining companies, which is how this looks."