WASHINGTON – The Environmental Protection Agency on Monday announced plans to overhaul its efforts to safeguard drinking water and to tighten restrictions on four waterborne compounds that cause cancer.

Officials said the steps will help regulators identify new contaminants faster and move quickly with new technologies to prevent harm to consumers. Environmentalists expressed hope that the moves will break a regulatory logjam at the EPA, which has not listed a new water contaminant for regulation in more than a decade.

Currently, the EPA examines potential contaminants one by one, a process that can drag on for years and drain resources. As part of the overhaul, the EPA will begin to consider contaminants in groups — such as pesticides, disinfection byproducts or volatile organic compounds.

“To confront emerging health threats, strained budgets and increased needs — today’s and tomorrow’s drinking water challenges — we must use the law more effectively and promote new technologies,” EPA Administrator Lisa Jackson said in a release, adding: “To make our drinking water systems work harder, we have to work smarter.”

Jackson also announced that the EPA will move to tighten limits on four specific contaminants that cause cancer because scientific advancements allow them to be detected at lower levels. The compounds include tetrachloroethylene, or PCE, and trichloroethylene, or TCE, which are used in industrial and textile processes, along with acrylamide and epichlorohydrin, which enter water during the treatment process.

Officials did not release potential new limits on those compounds, though in a proposal posted on the EPA’s Web site, the agency suggested it could feasibly reduce the amount of TCE in water to one-tenth of current levels.

Environmentalists have raised alarms in recent years that new batches of contaminants, such as discarded pharmaceuticals, were making their way into drinking water without regulation.


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