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House Votes Tighter Controls on Water Purity

Times Staff Writer

Despite opposition by the Reagan Administration, the House on Monday passed a bill requiring the Environmental Protection Agency to beef up its effort to control contaminants in the nation’s drinking water.

The bill, approved on a voice vote, is only the second piece of environmental legislation to pass both houses of Congress since President Reagan first took office in 1981. Last month the Senate passed a similar--and what environmentalists consider to be a stronger--measure.

Under terms of the original Safe Drinking Water Act of 1974, the EPA has issued standards restricting the levels of 22 of the estimated 700 chemicals commonly found in tap water. Both the current House and Senate bills would reauthorize the law with new provisions designed to encourage the agency to set standards for additional contaminants at a faster pace.

‘Not Good Enough’

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“Congress is saying that 11 years and 22 standards is just not good enough,” said Velma Smith, a drinking water expert at the Environmental Policy Institute, a nonprofit research and lobbying organization.

Among the unregulated contaminants currently believed to be in drinking water are such known or suspected carcinogens as trichloroethylene, vinyl chloride and benzene. According to a 1982 study, for example, Los Angeles’ drinking water contains 130 parts per billion of trichloroethylene--compared to the legal limit of 3 parts per billion in some states.

Under the Senate bill, the EPA would be required to set standards for an additional 61 contaminants by 1988 and to issue standards at a rate of 25 every three years thereafter. Although the House measure sets similar goals, it would allow the agency an option to decide against regulating some of them. Differences in the two bills will be resolved in a House-Senate conference committee.

None Yet Regulated

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Although the EPA in October, 1983, issued proposed rules for more than 50 contaminants in drinking water, none of these substances has yet been regulated. EPA officials say they expect these rules to be set in 1986.

Administration officials have said that they oppose both the House and Senate versions of the new law. EPA Administrator Lee M. Thomas recently restated the Administration’s opposition but declined to predict whether Reagan would veto the bill.

According to environmentalists, the chief opponent of the legislation within the Administration is Budget Director David A. Stockman, who has in the past expressed the view that this law usurps the prerogatives of the states. They said that Stockman’s agency, the Office of Management and Budget, since April has been stalling new regulations proposed by the EPA to control 30 additional chemicals in drinking water.

Among the provisions of the House and Senate bills opposed by the Administration are those that would authorize the EPA to require the states to develop separate plans to protect ground water resources.

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