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State panel rejects lower water carcinogen limit

By Bob Johnson
Associated Press Writer

MONTGOMERY — A subcommittee of the board that runs the Alabama Department of Environmental Management rejected a petition Friday by environmental groups asking the state to adopt more stringent standards to protect Alabama's waterways from cancer-causing pollutants.

The coalition of environmental groups, including the Alabama Rivers Alliance and Conservation Alabama, had asked the Environmental Management Council, which oversees ADEM, to adopt Environmental Protection Agency recommendations as to the amount of cancer-causing pollutants allowed in rivers and streams.

Currently only Alabama and Tennessee, among Southeastern states, have standards less stringent than the EPA recommendation of one in a million for carcinogens found in the water. Alabama's current standard is one in 100,000.

The chairman of the subcommittee, Sam Wainright, said the panel did not find sufficient evidence that eating fish from Alabama's waters might cause cancer. Wainright's committee made the recommendation to the full ADEM board, which will consider it at the board's next meeting on June 29.

The subcommittee also suggested that the board name a commission, made up of health and environmental experts, to study the issue.

The subcommittee's recommendation was a disappointment to representatives of environmental organizations.

"The issue is not how many people have died. It's how many people are at risk of dying. We can reduce the risk," said David Ludder, an attorney for the environmental groups. "This decision does not bode well for the health of people in Alabama."

The executive director of the Alabama Rivers Alliance, Cindy Lowry, said part of the problem is that only a fraction of Alabama's rivers and streams have been tested for carcinogens, so no one knows for sure the risk that exists. She said the environmentalists are only asking for the standard used by most states.

"This is not an outlandish goal," Lowry said.

Copyright 2005 Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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