Opening Statement of Senator Barbara Boxer
Full Committee Hearing: "Oversight Hearing on Public Health and Drinking Water Issues"
February 2, 2011
(Remarks as prepared for delivery)

I have called this hearing today to focus on a public health issue that touches every family and every community across the country -- the quality of our nation's drinking water.

Congress passed the Safe Drinking Water Act in 1974, to protect public health by creating consistent and strong safeguards for the nation's public drinking water supply. The words that President Ford spoke when he signed this legislation into law are as true today as they were then:

"Nothing is more essential to the life of every single American than clean air, pure food, and safe drinking water. There have been strong national programs to improve the quality of our air and the purity of our food. This bill will provide us with the protection we need for drinking water."

Congress last amended significant portions of the Act in 1996, strengthening public health protections and expanding the public's right to know about the quality of the water that they drink. The House passed these amendments 392 to 30, the Senate passed them unanimously.

Both of the distinguished witnesses on our first panel, Administrator Jackson and Director Birnbaum, are leading efforts to use the best available science to protect public health.

Administrator Jackson, EPA's very mission is to protect human health and the environment. A core principle of your Agency is to "ensure that "national efforts to reduce environmental risk are based on the best available scientific information."

As I said last week when I participated at a town hall at EPA headquarters, the mission you undertake every day is critically important to children and families, the elderly and communities large and small all across America. Your mission matters. It is a mission created with bipartisan support, and one that has made huge strides to improve our families' and our nation's health.

The EPA is also charged with making the final decision on whether to develop safeguards for new threats to drinking water quality, such as chromium-6 and perchlorate.

I would like to applaud your announcement today, Administrator Jackson, that the EPA will move forward to establish a national drinking water standard for perchlorate.

Perchlorate is a toxic chemical contained in rocket fuel -- it does not belong in our drinking water. And yet, according to the Government Accountability Office, Environmental Protection Agency data show that perchlorate has been found in 35 States and the District of Columbia and is known to have contaminated 153 public water systems in 26 States.

The Bush Administration never set a drinking water standard for perchlorate -- leaving millions of Americans in dozens of states at risk. But after reviewing the science, you reversed that decision.

I look forward to the Agency moving quickly to put in place a strong national standard to protect public drinking water from this dangerous contaminant.

Chromium-6 is another drinking water contaminant that I have urged the federal government to address. Chromium is used to make steel, metal plating and other materials. We all know the story of Erin Brockovich, who worked to help people in Hinkley, California who were drinking water contaminated by chromium-6.

In 2008, the National Toxicology Program concluded that chromium-6 in drinking water shows "clear evidence of carcinogenic activity" in laboratory animal tests.

In 2009, my home state of California proposed a public health goal for chromium-6 of 0.06 parts per billion. One year later in 2010, the state strengthened its proposal to 0.02 parts per billion, based on the need to protect infants and children from dangerous cancer-causing substances.

In September 2010, EPA released a draft scientific assessment that found the chromium-6 in drinking water is "likely to be carcinogenic to humans." The Agency has said it expects to finish this assessment in 2011.

The non-profit Environmental Working Group released a report that provided us with a snapshot in time on chorimum-6 levels in some drinking water systems. They found chromium-6 in the drinking water of 31 cities across the nation.

I believe that the federal government must act quickly to develop needed safeguards to reduce threats in our nation's drinking water. I look forward to hearing about the work EPA is engaged in to address chromium-6 and other emerging contaminants.


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