Jump to Navigation
Jump to Content

Natural Resources Defense Council v. EPA

Citation: 17 ELR 20418
No. Nos. 85-1839, -1854, 812 F.2d 721/25 ERC 1681/(D.C. Cir., 02/27/1987)

The court holds that the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) acted within its authority in setting the recommended maximum contaminant level (RMCL) for fluoride at 4 milligrams per liter under the Safe Drinking Water Act (SDWA). The court first holds that EPA properly calculated the RMCL to avoid skeletal fluorosis, finding that EPA intelligibly explained its calculations and ruling that RMCLs need not protect persons who, through unusual diets, may put themselves at special risk. Next, the court holds that EPA properly categorized dental fluorosis, which causes staining and pitting of the teeth, as adversely affecting public welfare but not public health, and thus not considered in the SDWA's primary regulation system of RMCLs. EPA reasonably concluded that dental fluorosis does not impair physical or mental functioning, and this is a reasonable interpretation of the SDWA § 1401(1)(B) definition that the contaminant have an adverse effect on "health." The court holds that EPA reasonably concluded that loss of self-confidence and dissatisfaction with personal appearance are not significant enough to rank as health effects under the SDWA.

Observing that RMCLs are to be set with reference to known or anticipated adverse health effects, not merely possible effects, the court holds that EPA rationally considered evidence of other effects and explained its conclusions.

Turning to a challenge by the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control, asserting that EPA ought not to have set any RMCL for fluoride at all, the court holds that EPA was not irrational in considering the available evidence. Moreover, EPA made a permissible administrative judgment in setting a margin of safety for the RMCL below the 10-milligrams-per-liter level EPA believes may lead to skeletal fluorosis under average conditions.

Counsel for Petitioner
Jacqueline M. Warren
Natural Resources Defense Council, Inc.
1350 New York Ave. NW, Suite 300, Washington DC 20005
(202) 783-7000

Counsel for Respondents
John A. Amodeo
Civil Division
Department of Justice, Washington DC 20530
(202) 633-2000

Before: RUTH B. GINSBURG, BORK and BUCKLEY, Circuit Judges.