Fairfax County Water Authority Director James J. Corbalis Jr. opposes proposed federal limitations on suspected carcinogens in water even though the agency's consultant urged support, saying "it's time for some action new."

The Water Authority board endorsed Corbalis' position - calling for goals rather than fixed standards - but after hearing a report by the consultant, Dr. J. Carrell Morris, professor of sanitary chemistry at Harvard University, it decided to take another look at its stand.

The board's - and Corbalis - present position coincides with the one taken by a number of state health departments and the American Waterworks Association, the chief trade group of water ulilities.

Their argument is that specific standards are more arbitrary than scientific, and that compliance, which would require ulilities to alter their disinfection process, could expose water users to agreat hazard - infection from bacteria.

The Environmental Protection Agency has proposed regulations that would limit the amount of chloroform and other similar organic material suspected of causing cancer. The organic material, called trihalomethanes, would be limited to 100 parts per 1 billion parts of water.

Chloroform - the most common trihalomethane - is created when chlorine, used to disinfect water, combines with orgacin matter.

The proposed regualtions would also require utilities to take steps to eliminate synthetic organics - also suspected of causing cancer - from their water. Many utilites, including the Fairfax authroity, appose this move because of the cost and the uncertain value of filtering out the material.

According to Corbalis, the Fairfax authority, if it installed granulated activated carbon filters, would have to spend $23 million to $46 million on new equipment.

Morris told the authority board he supported only the first part of the proposed regulations - a specific limitation on the amount of suspected carcinogens that could be in water.

Board members decided to reconsider the authority's present stand when they meet June 15. Despite wavering by at least some board members, Corbalis said he stands by his position that EPA should set goals, not specific limits.

"I don't think there is any evidence that warrants a change," he said in an interview. "What if we miss the number 100 by just one?"

As for consultant Morris' statement that the AWWA position is "a blueprint for inaction," Corbalis said,"He's an expert in chemistry, not public health."

According to the most recent monitoring, chloroform levels in the authority's system have ranged from 79 parts per billion (Alexandria ) to 150 parts per billion (in Dumfries). The readings were made this winter, when chloroform levels are normally low.

The readings were made after the authority altered its chlorination process at one of its three treatment plants in an effort to hold down formation of chloroform as a byprod

Readings are normally higher in the warmer months