GARDINER — Councilors will discuss spending $2,000 to join a coalition working to loosen the standard for discharging arsenic into waterways.

The state limits how much arsenic may be in wastewater discharged to waterways; the coalition wants to loosen the ambient water quality standard for arsenic, from the current .012 parts per billion to 10 parts per billion.

William Taylor of Pierce Atwood in Portland is preparing the bill to be submitted this legislative session.

Gardiner is among 35 waste water dischargers affected by the state’s limit, which Taylor said is stricter than safety standards for arsenic in drinking water.

“The drinking water standard is 1,000 times higher than the standards for (wastewater discharges in) rivers,” Taylor said. “The state’s drinking water standard is 10 parts per billion, and the ambient water quality criteria is .012 parts per billion. It’s 840 times better than what we’re drinking.”

City Manager Scott Morelli said councilors at today’s meeting will be asked if they wish to join a consortium of wastewater dischargers lobbying to pass the legislation.

“They’ll be voting on whether they wish to do so,” Morelli said.

He said the $2,000 would come from the wastewater enterprise account, not tax dollars.

Chuck Applebee, director of the city’s Wastewater and Public Works Department said the Wastewater Advisory Committee recommended joining the coalition.

So far, Applebee said, the city’s treatment plant has had no problems with exceeding the state’s arsenic limit.

But if there ever is an issue, he said, it would lead to an expensive “toxicity reduction evaluation,” possible pre-treatment requirements or reduced discharges.

“There are limits, and there is the potential to exceed them,” Applebee said. “If we do, it could be very expensive. We would have to go out into the community and see where it’s coming from.

“Gardiner is not in that situation. We don’t have a problem. The question is, would we in the future?”

Taylor said the coalition, which doesn’t have an official name yet, will need approval from the state Department of Environmental Protection, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and the state toxicologist before it can move ahead with the legislation.

“This is a standard applicable to all wastewater dischargers in the state,” Taylor said. “What we’re trying to do is get better science and get it updated. We need a fresh look at it before anybody spends any money complying with the standard. We want to make sure it’s the latest thinking. And if all parties agree, we believe it will be a better standard, one that saves the towns money.”

Gregg Wood, senior environmental engineer with DEP, said the state adopted a new Surface Water Toxics Control Program in 2005. As part of the rule making, he said the state adopted what is called the Numeric Ambient Water Quality Criteria.

“What it’s saying is, for example, the pollutant copper rises to a certain level (in a river) and becomes toxic to fish or other organisms. This stabilizes those thresholds by which different pollutants may affect vertebrates and invertebrates,” Wood said. “So the numbers are quite stringent, and the one most focused on is the human health criteria. We’re talking about long-term exposures of drinking two litters of water as well as 32 grams of fish or organisms every day.”

Wood said the department is in the process of a mass licensing effort on major rivers — the Kennebec, Penobscot and Androscoggin. As a result, a number of municipalities and industries are ending up with arsenic limits in their permits.

He said there is a “bit of disconnect” between the standards for drinking water and discharges. But the risk level being assessed is the combination of drinking water and the consumption of fish and other organisms from rivers.

“Those levels we’ve talked about would be a risk of one in 1 million developing cancer,” he said. “If it’s one in 100,000 then the number becomes 10 times higher. If it’s one in 10,000 then it becomes 100 times higher. It all depends on the risk factor. Right now it’s one in 1 million. That’s why the rules are so stringent. (The coalition) is looking for the number to range between one in 10,000 and one in 100,000.”

Mechele Cooper — 623-3811, ext. 408

[email protected]

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