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Press Briefing on Safe Drinking Water Act Consumer Confidence Reports Washington, D.C.

Carol M. Browner, Administrator            
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency        
Remarks Prepared for Delivery Press Briefing on Safe Drinking Water Act Consumer Confidence Reports
Washington, DC
                       February 11, 1998

Welcome and thank you for joining me for this important briefing.

I am delighted to announce today that this Administration is taking yet another step to expand the American people's right to know.

Two years ago, under the leadership of President Clinton and Vice-President Gore, we passed the Safe Drinking Water Act. We kept our promise to the people of this nation that we would do everything in our power to ensure that the water we all drink will continue to be safe and healthy.  

This new Safe Drinking Water Act is a pioneering, far-thinking law. It sets tough public health standards to keep toxic pollution and raw sewage out of the sources of our drinking water. It provides flexibility, so we can work together to find innovative, cost-effective ways to provide safe drinking water to millions of Americans. It involves communities, so decisions about water safety are made at the local level, by local residents -- the very people who will be most affected.

And for the first time ever, the Safe Drinking Water law will give citizens the right to know about what is coming out of their taps.

This is a fundamental cornerstone of this law and this administration -- the right to know. The Clinton Administration believes putting information into the hands of the American people is one of the best ways to protect public health and the environment. That's why we fought so hard for this right to know provision in the Safe Drinking Water Act. Some in industry and some in Congress initially believed too much information was a bad thing, that citizens would be confused and unduly alarmed. We knew the opposite to be true. Give people the facts, and they can make intelligent, informed decisions about how to protect their own health and their own communities.

Our experience with the Toxic Release Inventory has borne out this philosophy. All across the country, citizens are learning about chemical releases in their neighborhoods. And they certainly are better off for this knowledge. Since the program began in 1986, facilities reporting toxic releases have reduced emissions by almost half. And our industries have never been stronger.

Last month we acted on a right-to-know provision required by the President's Food Quality Protection Act. We released -- for public review -- an easy-to-understand, consumer-friendly brochure about pesticides in foods, and how people can reduce their exposure to pesticide residues.

Today, we take another step forward for the public's right to know. We are releasing a proposal for Consumer Confidence Reports -- yearly updates on tap water in communities across the nation.

Beginning next year, when citizens open up their bills, inside they will find an annual report from their water utilities on the health of their water system. A State-of-Your-Water report, if you will, written in plain, easy-to-understand, consumer-friendly language.

For the first time, consumers will know the quality of their water -- what contaminants are in it and where they come from, the amount of contamination and how it might affect consumers' health, and where to go for more information. Fifty six thousand water systems will participate, with information available to more than 240 million people across the country. This includes those most vulnerable -- the elderly, people with weakened immune systems, AIDS patients, and others who need to make the most informed decision possible about their drinking water.

Our Consumer Confidence Reports are good news for the American public. And they are good news for water suppliers. Citizens will get the facts about the water coming out of their taps so, if necessary, they can take practical steps to protect their health and their communities. And water suppliers now have a forum for telling customers about the job they are doing every day to protect drinking water.  In fact, in cities such as Denver, San Francisco, and right here in our own backyard in the Maryland suburbs, water suppliers think this is such a good idea they already are getting a jump on the requirement and include water quality reports in their bills today.

We are heartened by these early actions and look forward to the day when all water suppliers provide this important information. On August 6 of this year -- after extensive public comment -- we will publish final Consumer Confidence Report regulations, with the first reports arriving in mailboxes no later than October 1999.

Here in the United States, we have the safest water supply in the world. But we must remain ever-vigilant. EPA cannot do this alone. We must engage the American public, give them information, and involve them in keeping their drinking water safe and healthy. That is what the Consumer Confidence Reports are all about -- give people the facts, and they can make intelligent, informed decisions about how to protect their own health and their own communities.

Thank you.