EPA watchdog to ‘evaluate’ drinking water monitoring

EPA watchdog to ‘evaluate’ drinking water monitoring
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The Environmental Protection Agency’s internal watchdog has begun “preliminary research” into the department’s oversight of state drinking water testing. 

In a letter to EPA officials on Tuesday, the Office of Program Evaluation at the EPA’s inspector general’s office said it has undertaken the audit to “determine whether the EPA can improve its oversight of state drinking water sampling programs.”

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The study was scheduled as part of the Office of the Inspector General’s 2016 annual plan, Water Issues Director Kathlene Butler wrote in her letter.

The study comes amid scrutiny over how the EPA handles state drinking water testing in light of the Flint, Mich., water crisis. 

The EPA knew ahead of time that Flint’s drinking water was contaminated with lead, but the agency couldn’t do anything more than push Michigan regulators to handle the problem. Under federal law, state regulators are charged with testing drinking water and enforcing water safety laws.

The House in February voted to require the EPA to notify the public about high lead levels in drinking water if state or local officials don’t take action.

The inspector general's office's evaluation will look at drinking water testing results at both EPA headquarters and in state and regional offices around the country. The agency said it will assess “information on who collects drinking water samples for the states in each region.”

“The anticipated benefits of this project are improvements in the protection of human health by determining the extent that EPA ensures compliance with the Safe Drinking Water Act requirements for regular drinking water compliance sampling,” Butler wrote in her letter.