California ‘s State Water Resources Control Board holds ‘workshops’ to give the public a chance to comment on proposed regulations. I have questions.
In February 2020, California’s State Water Resources Control Board issued a ‘white paper’ titled: Economic Feasibility Analysis In Consideration Of A Hexavalent Chromium MCL
In its introduction, the Water Board states:
On July 1, 2014, a maximum contaminant level (MCL or drinking water standard) of 10 parts per billion (ppb) for hexavalent chromium (CrVI) was approved by the Office of Administrative Law. The MCL was issued by the California Department of Public Health (CDPH) right before its division of drinking water transferred jurisdiction to the State Water Resources Control Board (State Water Board). On May 31, 2017, the Superior Court of Sacramento County issued a judgment invalidating the MCL on the basis that CDPH had not properly considered the economic feasibility of complying with the MCL. As part of the next steps in reissuing an MCL for CrVI, the State Water Board anticipates stakeholder involvement in developing options for evaluating economic feasibility during the MCL process.
Due to the inherent uncertainty of placing economic value on numerous factors necessary for cost-benefit analyses, the MCL set by the State Water Board will be through a policy decision that considers traditional concepts such as treatment costs and number of cancer cases averted, as well as the costs and benefits of the regulation, as required by the Administrative Procedure Act, particularly as it relates to non-cancer health impacts on individuals, their families and their communities. This document describes challenges faced by the State Water Board in considering economic feasibility during the development of MCLs and concludes there is no simple formula capable of generating an economically feasible MCL. [emphasis mine]
The State Water Board will hold public workshops to discuss these ideas and hear suggestions by stakeholders and interested persons regarding economic feasibility in the development of drinking water standards. The concepts presented in this document allow stakeholders to engage the MCL development process ahead of the formal public review and comment period required by the Administrative Procedure Act. While this discussion is intended to be specific to the development of an MCL for CrVI, ideas and methodologies arising from the CrVI rulemaking process may be applied in the development of other drinking water standards.California State Water resources control board White Paper Discussion on: Economic Feasibility Analysis in Consideration of a Hexavalent Chromium MCL, February 2020
My first question, which I will not phrase exactly this way, is “This is all bullshit, isn’t it?”
What I need to remember is they want to do good.
“When you encounter a person with radically different beliefs, you might think they’re ignorant, crazy, or malicious. Resist this inclination and instead consider that they view issues from a different perspective or that they’re acting upon what they think is the best available information. Chances are far better that they mean to help but aren’t great at communicating than that they’re actually ignorant, crazy, or malicious.
“In a disagreement, people frequently assume their partners’ intentions and motivations are worse than they are. Many people, for example, assume conservatives are racist, liberals aren’t patriotic, Republicans don’t care about poor people, or Democrats are weak on national defense. They then go on to assume that these perceived shortcomings motivate beliefs and arguments. This is usually false.”— How to Have Impossible Conversations: A Very Practical Guide by Peter Boghossian, James Lindsay
I have doubts that the proposed Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) will, in fact, make the water safer, but I need to ask California’s State Water Resources Control Board (SWRCB) some questions to get insight. A dialectical process to find the truth.
Below is my list of questions so far. I would love to hear any thoughts you might have.
Questions for the state Waterboard
1. I think white paper states that with our present Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) there are “health impacts on individuals, their families and their communities.” Just so I’m clear, how many lives will be saved or how many years of life extended, if the Water Board’s Maximum Contaminant Level (MCL) of 10 ppb for Hexavalent Chromium is adopted?
2. Can the Water Board provide a value of statistical life (VSL), or quality-adjusted life-year (QALY), or any other economic metric used in a standard cost benefit analysis due to Water Board’s MCL of 10 ppb for Hexavalent Chromium being adopted
3. Given that California has nation’s the highest poverty rate according to the census’ Supplemental Poverty Measure, why is a lower CrVI MCL where the Water Board believes water companies should focus their resources?
4. Most water is used for non-drinking water purposes: laundry, cleaning, watering, etc. Would the water board consider point of use appliances, such as reverse osmosis filters, satisfactory to meet the proposed MCL?
5. Am I correct that the white paper for the hexavalent chromium cost analysis indicates that the public health goal takes precedence over the Administrative procedures act, is this correct?
6. Since the administrative procedures act was promulgated prior to the public health goal, does it not take precedence and priority?
7. On page 5, the board states:
“excluding benefits achieved from reduction of these costs skews the cost – benefit analysis toward excessive costs. However, including the economic impact of these costs is not feasible due to the lack of specific information in the PHG report, especially as they relate to liver developmental and how reproductive toxicity‘s manifest themselves in the human population and their subsequent treatment and recovery. Without that information, the state Waterboard is challenged to establish and identify a complete inventory of the benefits…”California State Water resources control board White Paper Discussion on: Economic Feasibility Analysis in Consideration of a Hexavalent Chromium MCL, February 2020
Has the state Water Board done a review of existing research on such conditions as they relate to hexavalent chromium? If yes, what did the water board find? If not, why not?
8. On page 6, the Waterboard acknowledges that a majority of the systems it covers have less than 100 connections.
“Analysis of the approximately 2950 community water systems shows that the median community system serves 95 service connections. This means more than half of the water systems have fewer than 100 households over which to spread the cost.“California State Water resources control board White Paper Discussion on: Economic Feasibility Analysis in Consideration of a Hexavalent Chromium MCL, February 2020
The water board also acknowledges the small water systems already struggle with compliance and maintenance issues and or barely surviving. The board then goes on to say
“setting new or revised drinking water standards only to what is economically feasible for the most disadvantaged public water systems will restrict the development of new or more protective standards.”California State Water resources control board White Paper Discussion on: Economic Feasibility Analysis in Consideration of a Hexavalent Chromium MCL, February 2020
It would seem that the Waterboard then needs to make sure that the standards they put in place are truly protective and backed by science, does it not?
9. Does the Waterboard believe that they know better than the local water company as to the needs of its system?
10. Does the water board believe that a new standard is more important than upgrades in a water provider’s equipment?
11. No doubt I missed this in the report, but where does the water board say how many lives will be saved if the new standard is enacted? And what peer– reviewed research did they use to come up with this conclusion?
11. It is my understanding that the standard metric for assessing the benefits of risk and proposed environmental regulations tradeoff between money and small risks of death is the ‘value of statistical life’ (VSL). Perhaps I missed its use in the White Paper? Why was VSL not employed?
12. The discussion by the state water board revolves around the public health goal that has been established by the state. Did the water board review the underlying research done to establish this public health goal?
13. All of the research that I have found indicates that hexavalent chromium at the levels given for the EPA maximum contamination limit will be ingested and changed to chromium-3 by the body’s functions. CrIII is used by the body for metabolic purposes, and is therefore needed. What may I have missed in the literature that the state of California has access to?
14. I’m sure I’m missing something in the state’s economic analysis, it appears that the state simply says that the costs aren’t very much and therefore because we have such a public health goal, the costs are worth it, and have not evaluated that the public health goal with regard to toxicological science, then of course it’s worth it. Do I have that right?
15. Even if we do say that the public health goal for hexavalent chromium is, theoretically, a good idea, I am having trouble understanding the logic behind the state recommendation. Can you help me out? Let me give you an example:
Why do we not ban all automobiles, trucks, bicycles, etc., to prevent deaths? Let’s say the state of California bans all conveyances that travel faster than a person can run. Bicycles, automobiles, segues, any equipment that moves faster than someone can run is no longer allowed to operate. This will save millions of lives. No one will die in an automobile accident or a bicycle accident. It is unalloyed good, is it not? If we do not include the cost of implementation of such a rule this skews the considerations all to the benefit side, does it not? Cost benefit analysis is the only way that has been shown to help a state government agency determine whether the cost is worth the benefit.
16. How many lives, based on peer – reviewed research, does the state of California project will be saved with this new standard?
17. Can the provide the number of lives saved for each proposed maximum contaminant level for hexavalent chromium?
18. The water company I do contract work for has been working on consolidating with neighboring water companies for over four years, In its analysis the water board says it might provide a variance two small water companies, for how long would they consider applying this variance given that the average time for consolidation is 10–15 years?
19. The state Water Board follows state policy set forth in the California Health and Safety code section 116365 (a); 116270, respectively, which states “reduce to the lowest level feasible all concentrations of toxic chemicals that, when present in drinking water, may cause cancer, birth defects, or other chronic diseases.” I am having trouble understanding how this statute is being interpreted. Does it mean that any chemical which the state of California lists under the propositions 65 code if found in drinking water is to be mitigated? Or does it mean that any chemical on the proposition 65 list that is at a level known to cause cancer needs to be eliminated to below detectable levels? For example, In your favorite bread stuffing (you know the one with onions, celery, black pepper and mushrooms) you’ll find acrylamide, ethyl alcohol, benzo(a)pyrene, ethyl carbamate, furan derivatives, furfural, dihydrazines, d-limonene, psoralens, quercetin glycosides and safrole. And, as I write these questions, I have about 20,000,000 plutonium atoms in my bone marrow. But before we break out a Geiger counter to check me, let me explain that every animal now or previously on earth does or did too. This most toxic of substances exists all around us and at the background level.
On page 10 the report states,
“treatment technology has developed to the point that almost any contaminant can be removed from water.“California State Water resources control board White Paper Discussion on: Economic Feasibility Analysis in Consideration of a Hexavalent Chromium MCL, February 2020
Has not detection technology also developed to the point that almost any contaminant can be detected in water, down to the parts per trillion or parts per quadrillion level? Does the Water Board plan to have all chemicals and compounds listed on the Prop 65 list removed below detectable levels?
21. On page 8 the report states,
“…for these reasons, the statewide increase in costs from a lower MCL is not due to increased treatment costs but rather due to the increased number of systems requiring treatment as the MCL is lowered.“California State Water resources control board White Paper Discussion on: Economic Feasibility Analysis in Consideration of a Hexavalent Chromium MCL, February 2020
What then is the cost on a per life basis?
22. On page 11 the report states,
“Economic feasibility and affordability will be addressed when considering compliance options such as grants, loans, regionalization and consolidation (both full consolidation and various forms of administrative consolidation) as well as the establishment of lifeline rates.”California State Water resources control board White Paper Discussion on: Economic Feasibility Analysis in Consideration of a Hexavalent Chromium MCL, February 2020
Does the Water Board see this as a solution that can be implemented quickly enough for the majority of small companies to not violate the new MCLs?
23. As noted previously, the water system I contract for is in its fourth or fifth year of attempting to consolidate with another company–any water company. Like many water companies, we have an aging board and aging operators and will not be able to run the system adequately in 5 to 10 years. We are “one injury or illness away from not being able to operate at all.” Does the state Water Board have any suggestions to help such a water company?
24. In its conclusion on page 11, the Water Board states
“[The California Water Resources Control Board] understands competing needs between protecting public health and keeping water affordable. Water systems struggle to maintain infrastructure and meeting drinking water standards, but assistance is available to offset costs of new regulations (grants, low or no interest loans, point-of-use or point-of-entry treatment, variances, exemptions and consolidations).”California State Water resources control board White Paper Discussion on: Economic Feasibility Analysis in Consideration of a Hexavalent Chromium MCL, February 2020
I agree with the statement’s preamble. As the Water Board has noted, more than half of California’s struggle daily to maintain infrastructure and meet drinking water standards. And as I have noted before, our rates are the highest in the county despite low wages and volunteer help. Will the state water board please explain how a water company might apply to for any or all of these?
25. I may have missed it, are no toxicological reports listed in the White Paper’s references? And if there are none, why did the Water Board choose to disregard them?
26. What research is the Water Board basing its statement that lives will be saved or extended by lowering the State’s MCL?
I would love to hear your thoughts on these questions. Again, I do not want to come off as hostile, but rather as curious into their thoughts. For example, #9 is a bit dickish on my part. Is there a way to fix it?